PRINCETON HEIGHTS – To a Millennial, or to someone from Gen Z, the device might as well be centuries old.
It’s skinny and metal, with lines and numbers on it.
The words “Brannock Device” on the strange thing identify it but give no indication what it does. Baby Boomers remember it as something sales people in old-time shoe stores used to employ to get the perfect fit for customers. Put your foot right in there, Ma’am. Let me move this metal thing on the side next to your arch. Just right.
It may seem archaic, but Robert and Tricia Egan still use it when they sell work boots at Hampton Shoe. And here is something even more old-fashioned: Every boot theysell is made in the U. S. of A.
“I’ve always had a strong belief in domestic manufacturing, not relying on outsourcing things to Communist China,” said Robert Egan, whose family was in the shoe business. Today, business is booming both in a store at 5916 Hampton Ave. and an internet business, AmericanMadeWorkBoots.com.
“This year has been phenomenal,” he said.
So phenomenal, in fact, that the alderman representing the area of the store recently got a resolution passed in the Board of Aldermen honoring the store on its 30th anniversary.
Twelfth Ward Alderman Larry Arnowitz put his foot down when he introduced a resolution that said that the Egans “are dedicated to providing exceptional customer service along with high-quality American made and union made work boots and shoes.”
Arnowitz definitely didn’t put his foot in his mouth when he further wrote, “Hampton Shoe is known for its fine craftsmanship when it comes to shoe repair services. These services provide value to the customer and also to the planet. Thousands of pairs of shoes have been repaired over the years, keeping them out of landfills, thus helping the environment.”
Besides that, the resolution said, you can bet your boots the Egans are always ready to help groups such as Friends of Francis Park, BackStoppers, St. Louis University High School, Feed My People, Blues for Kids, Girls on the Run, Pedal for the Cause, Make a Wish and Victory of Violence.Robert Egan started giving the boot to bad service in 1989, when he was a 19-year-old business student at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville. He quit school and bought a shoe repair store at 5435 Hampton Ave.
Egan loved working for himself and got extra help in 2000 when he married Tricia, who was doing marketing for Levi Strauss. She quit that job in 2003.
The Egans’ company branched out from shoe repair to American-made work boots in 2003 and started on the internet in 2004. It’s the oldest American-made work boot site on the web, Egan said.
In a sign that they’re not operating on a shoestring, the Egans bought their current property in Princeton Heights in 2016 and renovated it. It’s the fourth they’ve had, and Robert Egan hopes it’s the couple’s last.
The Egans are down-at-the-heels at any thought of buying foreign-made boots.
“Most of our products are going to last longer,” Robert Egan said. “[There’s] better-quality components, and they employ Americans.”
Also, manufacturers here aren’t as wasteful, he said.
“The environmental impact is much less than product coming in from Asia, where they just pollute at will.”
Quality is key, Robert Egan said. “I tell people these boots are the most important tool they have. They use it eight or 10 hours a day.”
The brands they sell include two from Missouri, Justin Work Boots and Chippewa Boots. The most popular union-made boots are Carolina and Double H, both made at the Cove Shoe factory in Martinsburg, Pa. They also sell Wolverine DuraShocks, a new domestic brand of Wolverines.
All that causes customers to run in and buy again and again. Hampton Shoe offers discounts for union members but welcomes everybody who doesn’t want to end the day with sore feet.
Michael Newton, business agent for IBEW Local 1, said that you could get shoes anywhere but that what attracted him was the service. No matter when a person came in before, he said, Trish Egan remembers your name.
“I remember the same thing from all the union brothers that patronize Hampton Shoe,” Newton said. “The owners know your name.”
Union carpenter Mike Poisson doesn’t go anyplace else for work boots and said it was like an old-fashioned shoe store.
“I always tell Trish, if they ever stop selling these boots, I’ll have to retire,” Poisson said.
That would be a shame, because customers such as Poisson shouldn’t have to to hang up their boots.