Those Cunning Oriental Cobblers

Looking back a few decades, it seems that almost every Midwest town had a shoe factory. Hannibal had one that covered at least two city blocks down by the river. Those factories provided quite a bit of employment for working-class folks. Everyone needs shoes!

My ex-wife Betsy’s father Chris owned and ran a shoe store in Quincy, on Maine Street. We would bring the kids to town and stop in at the store to visit. I was idly looking through Chris’s stock shelves one day, probably sometime during the late 1980s, when I noticed that almost all of the boxes were marked “Made In China”, my first inkling of the changes to come.

I needed some new shoes a month or so ago. I had paid $100.00 for a pair of Rockport walking shoes a couple of years ago and they were more-or-less shot, coming apart at the seams. I’m hard on shoes, what with all of the walking that I do. A pair of running shoes I’d bought a year or so ago were also about worn out.

So I reluctantly drove out to the Wal Mart superstore way out on Broadway. I’ve never liked shopping for apparel, but sometimes it’s necessary.

I found this pair of mid-height suede leather boots for the amazingly low price of thirty bucks:

What would these boots have cost if they were made in the USA? Twice as much? Three times as much? They are very serviceable and comfortable, and I’ve probably put one hundred miles on them already. I’d love to know more about them:

Where did the leather come from? Which cow was slaughtered and run through the livestock industrial mill to provide it? What breed of cow?

What’s the shoe factory like, and where is it?

Shoes should come with an explanatory pamphlet! I can see it in my mind’s eye… there would be a pre-slaughter photo of the particular cow which provided the leather, a group shot of the shoe factory workers, and a photo of the factory. There would be an explanation of where the sole material came from, and a photo of a worker operating the shoe-lace machine. It probably won’t happen!




Filed under Essays and Articles

3 responses to “Those Cunning Oriental Cobblers

  1. bev

    Interesting post, Larry. When I was growing up in eastern Ontario, there were a couple of large factories in the towns that produced shoes for Bata and Brown’s Shoes. I think the last of them closed about eight or ten years ago. When you think of all the shoes people wore, it’s easy to imagine just why there were so many factories, but I doubt there are many left in North America.

  2. There used to be a big Florsheim shoe factory in Kirksville, MO, one of the major employers in that college town. I think that factory was the last one to shut down in Northeast Missouri.

  3. Joan

    How’d you like to live in a town where the only (remaining) factory was Brown Shoe? In Hannibal, the shoe company and the rubber plant, which supplied the soles were the plants available for visiting on ‘high school visitation day” The machines had not changed since the day they were installed, except perhaps they were now powered by electricity. Twas a peek back into the era of sweatshops.
    Oh, the Atlas Cement company ( Now Continental) was available too. My bro worked a summer job there and came home at 2:00 A.M. coughing up cement dust. His sinuses took a beating that summer.
    Now the Chinese are dealing with the woes of 19th Century technology without pollution laws.

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