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Steps from the past: Recalling the rich history of the building and legacy of Potter’s Shoes

Posted: Friday, Nov 16th, 2012

This is the interior of the Service Shoe Shop in the 1930s. Keith Potter (inset) worked in the shop after returning from college at the University of Madison-Wisconsin. In 1956, Potter bought the Service Shoe Shop location on Dakota Avenue and it became Potter’s Shoe Store. Pictured next is Bob Landstrom, owner of Landstrom’s Photo Loft and his mother Pat Landstrom, owner of Potter’s Shoes. In 1977, Landstrom’s husband, Tom, started Landstrom’s Photo Loft in the upstairs of the building — the former site of City Hall. Shown behind the Landstroms is one of the original doors, which still contains the original stain glass from the historical building. FIRST PHOTO CONTRIBUTED; SECOND PHOTO BY KARA GUTORMSON/PLAINSMAN

HURON — Dakota Avenue’s historical buildings hold fond memories for many people in Huron, especially for Pat Landstrom, owner of Potter’s Shoes, located at 316 Dakota Ave S. Some of the best stories about the building were passed on to her by her father, Keith Potter, founder of the company.

Before it was a shoe store, the building was the site of the first firehouse in Huron and City Hall. Back in the horse and buggy days, people would tie up their horses behind City Hall. A jail cell was also located in the firehouse, in the north west corner of the building. “The cell was in the front of the store, where our display window is now,“ said Landstrom.

Potter attended Huron High School and then Huron College from 1915 to 1918. He worked at Robinson’s Shoe Store in Huron after school and on Saturdays. After that, he attended college at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. “He graduated cum laude in cost accounting,” said Landstrom. During the whole time when he was attending college, he was selling shoes in Madison. When he came back to Huron, he worked for Harry Lampe and Lawrence Zieske in the Service Shoe Shop. “After doing that, he decided he wanted to run his own store,” she said.

Potter’s was established in 1941, when Potter started off by leasing the Robinson Shoes Location, on Third Street. “The address was 20 Third Street,” said Landstrom. Then, in 1956, Potter bought the Service Shoe Shop location on Dakota Avenue.

In those days, he would order shoes directly from Kansas City. But getting merchandise wasn’t the easiest task for him. In 1941, the country was in the middle of World War II, and for storeowners and merchants, that meant hard times due to war rations. Buying enough shoes to supply the store wasn’t an easy task.

“Shoes were one of the many items that were rationed,” explained Landstrom. “You had to have a stamp for shoes,” she said. The government gave out booklets of rationing stamps. “I was lucky,” she recalled. “My grandmother and grandfather didn’t need to buy any new shoes, so they let me use their stamps!”

Landstrom said there were shoes that were not rationed, but those had rope soles and canvas uppers. “They weren’t the best quality, but they were the best you could get.” After the war ended in 1945, Potter found it was much easier to stock his store with enough pairs of shoes for his customers. Landstrom took ahold of the reins for the family business when Potter passed away in 1965.

There were a couple of challenges that she encountered in the process of managing the store on her own. “You couldn’t read my dad’s handwriting,” she said. “I got an accountant and he showed me how to do the books, but we pretty much ignored the way my dad had done it, because we couldn’t read it.”

So they started from scratch. Landstrom learned how to do the accounting when she took control of the business. She still does balances the books today by hand, without the use of a computer. The business has stayed in the family for 71 years, quite an accomplishment in today’s economic landscape.

In 1977, Landstrom’s husband, Tom, started Landstrom’s Photo Loft in the upstairs of the building — the former site of City Hall. When they first got the loft into the building, there were some original stained glass windows that Tom and Pat had to clean up. “We scraped off what must have been eight layers of paint,” she said. The entrance to the loft still has the original stained glass. Tom and Pat’s son Bob now runs the photo business.

Times have changed, and not very many shoes are made in the U.S. anymore, said Landstrom. Her daughter, Susan Fullerton, helps to manage the store. Fullerton also buys much of the merchandise. “We have a couple of brands that are made in the U.S., but most of our shoes come from China,” said Landstrom, adding that some of them are shipped from Germany and Spain.

The theme that sets Potter’s Shoes apart from other shoe retailers is quality, Landstrom said. Her customers are very important to her and all of the staff at Potter’s. “We know most of them,” she said. “And when new ones come in, we make sure to get to know them as well. The best part about doing business in Huron is that you can get to know your customers.”

For the complete article see the 11-15-2012 issue.

Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 11-15-2012 paper.

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