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"Stetson Shoe store interior." Courtesy of Weymouth Public Libraries, Tufts Library via Digital Commonwealth.

As was the case for other retail establishments, shoe stores were the public face of a brand’s outreach. In 1920, nearly 250,000 American women and men worked in the retail side of shoemaking alone. Customer service in these spaces was so prized that shoe sellers consulted books such as George Hamilton’s Retail Shoe Salesmanship (1920) to learn not only how to interact with customers and push stock, but also how to dress or even tailor one’s diet in order to become a better shoe salesperson.

Shoe fashions after 1850 changed rapidly, and stores tailored their displays to celebrate the variety of styles. Most manufacturers distributed their shoes to a range of stores. To prevent any overstock, many retail locations contracted with suppliers so that surplus could be routed back to their factories. Some larger companies, such as Stetson, owned specialty stores that distributed only their designs. Overall, American shoe sales accounted for more than 1.5 billion dollars in the early twentieth century, with Massachusetts leading the industry with more than thirty-five percent of the nation’s production in 1919.