Lund: The Al Bundy Years

Posted: Tuesday, February 17, 2009 at 12:00 am
By: Doug Lund
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It doesn’t take much, these days, to send me drifting off into some trance-like state where even forty year old memories can pop into my mind as fresh as the smell of this morning’s coffee.  Everybody daydreams, I suppose, but these journeys of mine are like self hypnosis.
It happened the other day as I was reading the paper and saw that Johnson Shoe Store will be closing this spring after 99 years in downtown Sioux Falls. The Coppock family, owners since 1960, decided to combine it with their other store, Arthur’s Shoes, at 41st and Kiwanis.
Suddenly, it was 1969. I’m this 23 year old small-town guy with a wife and two little girls about to start a new life in the big city of Sioux Falls as manager of Johnson Shoes’ “Men’s Den.”  I’m nervous to the point of nausea. I’d had over a year’s experience selling shoes at Urevig Bootery in Brookings and actually enjoyed it. But Bill Coppock, my new boss at Johnsons,’ was expecting to me to not only sell shoes but also make critical inventory decisions about styles, colors, size ranges and number of pairs to order in. hoping to charm customers right off their feet.Mistakes could be expensive, like the 35 pair of black and brown faux alligator skin saddle shoes that I was sure would be a hit with the guys and wound up collecting dust on the January/July sales racks for years afterward. Fortunately, those miscues were few thanks, in part, to the boss’s two high school-age sons, Tom and Jim Coppock. Both worked at the store after school and weekends.  All I had to do is show them the latest shoe order catalogues and they’d usually pick the styles that would sell well.
Unlike a lot of shoe stores today where the clerk just asks what size you wear,” Johnsons insisted that feet be measured with a Brannock Device so the customer could be properly fit with the correct size. We weren’t just shoe salesmen..we were podiatry engineers.Easier said than done.   The TV character, Al Bundy, may have been an exaggeration but he was right about one thing; both woman and men are incredibly vain about the size of their feet and will stubbornly resist any effort to change it. Ladies who clearly measure 9 on the Brannock will insist they’ve never worn anything larger than a 7 ½ which would explain their bunions the size of onions. Men..even slender-footed men..would rather jam their tootsies into a 10 EEE than a longer narrower size that fits snuggly in the heel and gives the toes some breathing room. “Nope,” most will say, “they look like gunboats.”  Gunboats..the most often heard word in shoe stores. I never understood how so many people were familiar with the dimensions of Navy warships and how that applied to footwear. 
Every once in a while, though, customers would put their vanity aside, follow my recommendation, based on the correct measurements, and buy a pair of shoes that actually fit.  I even managed to get my dad to switch from a 9 E to a 10 ½ C. He had to admit that even though they still looked like gunboats, his toes no longer touched the end and his corns had disappeared.
I certainly didn’t mind those years in the shoe business, but it was, of course, show business that turned out to be my life’s calling. Tom and Jim Coppock also had plans to move on to different careers when they graduated but in the end chose to follow in their dad’s footsteps and take over operation of Johnson Shoes. I called Tom this week to reminisce about the old days. He told me that closing the downtown store will be tough but merging with their other location to become Arthur Johnson Shoes should be a very good fit. And, afterall,  in the shoe game, a good fit is always the most important thing.

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