The interesting case of Ted’s Boots: Longtime business bucks trend to thrive on Northampton’s Main Street

  • Kathy Hudson, the owner of Ted's Boot Shop on Main Street Northampton, demonstrates how to use a Ball and Circle used to make shoes more comfortable for people with bunions. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Kathy Hudson, owner of Ted's Boot Shop in Northampton, waits on a long time customer, Judy Boyle. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Shoe trees in the back of Ted’s Boot Shop, owned by Kathy Hudson. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Kathy Hudson, owner of Ted's Boot Shop in Northampton, waits on a longtime customer, Judy Boyle. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Kathy Hudson, owner of Ted's Boot Shop in Northampton, waits on a long time customer, Judy Boyle. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Kathy Hudson, owner of Ted's Boot Shop in Northampton, waits on a long time customer, Judy Boyle. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Kathy Hudson, the owner of Ted's Boot Shop on Main Street Northampton, demonstrates how to use a Ball and Circle used to make shoes more comfortable for people with bunions. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • A photograph of Buster Brown, a mascot of the Brown Shoe Company and iconic image during the early 20th century. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Post card of Main Street Northampton from 1970 with Ted's Boot Shop. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Kathy Hudson, owner of Ted's Boot Shop in Northampton, waits on customers Stanley and Michaeline Baj of Hadley. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • An archival photo of Ted’s Boot Shop. Photo courtesy Forbes Library

  • An archival photo of Ted’s Boot Shop. Photo courtesy Forbes Library

  • —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • John "Jack" Dumas Sr. is retired from Ted's Boot Shop in Northampton but visits the store each Saturday. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • A storefront window at Ted's Boot Shop on Main Street in Northampton. Photographed on Saturday, Nov. 23, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • John "Jack" Dumas Sr. is retired from Ted's Boot Shop in Northampton but drops in to the store each Saturday. Photographed on Saturday, Nov. 23, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Shoppers are reflected in a mirror at Ted's Boot Shop on “Bag Day” in Northampton on Saturday, Nov. 23, 2019. Photo by Kevin Gutting. Design by Nicole J. Chotain.

  • Ted’s Boot Shop in Northampton is named after Ted Dumas, a World War II sailor who died in the battle of Leyte Gulf. His photograph, above left, can be found displayed behind the counter of the Main Street business. Dumas’ brother, Fred, and Fred’s wife, Isabel, opened the store in Easthampton during the war then moved it to Northampton in 1964. At right, John Dumas Jr., a Marine Corps veteran, began working in his father’s store, Ted’s Boot Shop, in 1970 and managed it for many years until his death in 2017. These framed photos sit on the counter of the Northampton business. STAFF PHOTOS/KEVIN GUTTING

  • John Dumas Jr., a Marine Corps veteran, began working in his father's store, Ted's Boot Shop, in 1970 and managed it for many years until his death in 2017. These framed photos sit on the counter of the Northampton business. Photographed on Saturday, Nov. 23, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

For Hampshire Life
Published: 11/29/2019 9:53:56 AM

A thriving Main Street works wonders for small cities and towns. Enhancing a locale’s popularity, it attracts residents and visitors for shopping, entertainment, eating and just plain gawking. Property values increase. Citizens are so proud of their municipalities that they celebrate them with monikers like Northampton’s “Paradise City.”

Unfortunately Northampton’s Main Street is fighting a reputation as Paradise Lost. A three-part series in the Daily Hampshire Gazette this September spotlighted problems like Internet competition, high rents, scarce parking and shoppers’ perceived aversion to panhandlers. Of 15 vacant storefronts in the central business district identified by the Northampton Economic Indicators Report in 2018, the most embarrassing belongs to Spoleto’s former site in midtown, empty since the restaurant moved a few hundred yards away in 2012.

Today’s Main Street is veering toward what planners call “recreational shopping” at restaurants and specialty shops. By and large, Main Street is no longer a locale for traditional businesses like hardware stores and cheap clothing. All of which makes the case of Ted’s Boot Shop at 158 Main Street so confoundingly wonderful.

The oldest family-owned store in town, Ted’s got its start in Easthampton when Fred and Isabel Dumas opened the store in 1946. They moved it to Northampton in 1964. Their son John Dumas Sr. and their grandchildren Kathy Hudson and John Dumas Jr. operated the store, and Hudson took over solo after her brother died at 59 of a heart attack in 2017. Ted’s is named after the owner’s great uncle Ted Dumas, a U.S. Navy sailor who died in the Battle of Leyte Gulf during World War II, when a kamikaze pilot killed him and some others. Hudson’s not sure where “Boot” came in.

The store is not just surviving but thriving. Now wait a minute, you may be thinking. Aren’t shoe stores passé because people can get good deals from buying shoes online? Far from it, insists store manager Rhonda Bombardier, 49. “You have to try shoes on, because every company is different,” she says. “A size 9 in Merrill might be different in Clarks. We need to measure you, and that’s just a start. I’m a 7 ½ on the [measuring] stick, and I ended up a 9 wide in a New Balance.”

The human foot is a complicated mechanism, with 26 bones, 33 joints and 100+ muscles, tendons and ligaments. No two feet are identical. There’s a chart in Ted’s from Wright Arch Preserver Shoes displaying two feet of the same length. One has a higher arch than the other, important information for fitters.

Spending a day at Ted’s on November 12 was instructive. Customers couldn’t avoid warming to the place’s atmosphere. Among the tchotchkes were a purple-and-black rotating marble, a horse statue and a notable poster called “The Doctor.” Its subject is the former UMass and pro basketball star Julius (Doctor J) Erving wearing scrubs and Converse sneakers. Doctor J’s late UMass coach Jack Lehman came in to sign the poster “Best of Luck Jack Lehman U of Mass.”

A former student at San Francisco State, Bombardier switched to Ted’s after working in medical billing and became store manager in two months. Hudson switched from a bank job. On the November morning both women faced some challenges. Already suffering from arthritis, back problems, flat feet and high insteps, Bombardier the previous night had tripped on a cord that tangled a foot and hurt her right shoulder and replacement knee. “Sore, very sore,” she said. Hudson was hustling to finish every chore in time for a next-day trip to Florida on her 60th birthday.

“So much to do,” she said. “I was born on the 13th... My mother had three boys and then me. Praise the Lord, a girl! She said it was the happiest day of her life. But I don’t want a birthday party. That’s why I’m going to Florida: a little R & R.” And a visit in Delray Beach to her son Michael, 28, a recovering heroin addict who just bought a third truck for his business, Patriot Moving and Storage. Hudson’s daughter Stephanie Millor, 33, works part-time at Ted’s and full time doing everything except engineering at a custom laser welding company her father David Hudson owns in Connecticut.

“People people” to the hilt, Hudson and Bombardier welcomed every customer. In came Kim Cotton of nearby Cotton Tree Service. Her company was doing great business. “With global warming, people are afraid that trees will fall on the houses because of all the storms we’ve been having,” she said. “We plant, maintain, cable and remove them.”

“They have consistently good stuff here,” she added about Ted’s, before buying a Size 9 Naturalizer. “It’s a mainstay of Main Street.”

Hudson and Bombardier both say their biggest pleasure on the job is helping people. A 2017 customer wrote on the store’s webpage, “I literally just left there crying happy tears. I need[ed] shoes that fit me and were comfortable with my new foot drop brace. I am [not] sure [of] the name of the woman that fit me, but she was AMAZING. I can wear the brace with no discomfort and still have a stylish sneaker. I paid more, well worth every penny and I’ll be back for a few more pairs of sneakers.”

A middle-aged woman came into the store looking for empty shoe boxes — not an unusual request, especially from teachers. Bombardier’s ex-husband had just removed inventory, but she took the woman’s name and phone number. “I like your purse,” she called out as the woman left the store.

“A lot of people want to park on Main Street, which isn’t easy,” Bombardier said during a break. “And older people don’t always feel safe. But they still get here on walkers and in wheelchairs. They want to keep their shopping local.” Even if that means spending a little more than shopping for often less reliable shoes online.

Next up was Judy Boyle, an elderly woman who walks two miles a day as a private home care worker. “I’ve been coming here forever, back to when my kids were here,” she said, adding that her sons are 51 and 53. “I love the way the shoes wear. They’re good quality. They seem to last forever.” She left after buying a pair of walking shoes.

A man came in praising the Korean custom of leaving one’s shoes at the door. He bought a pair of slippers.

A heavyset woman with knee and ankle issues tried on many shoes before settling on two pairs. Hudson and Bombardier were the pattern of all patience. “Gotta figure it out,” Hudson said. “People have all kinds of problems.”

Hudson wore double-buckled Söfft-brand shoes with waterproof leather and interiors adorned with shearling (tanned skin from a newly shorn or lamb with the wool left on). Bombardier found a fit in Puma sneakers.

The more you examine a profession, the more interesting it becomes:

■ Shoes wear out in 9-to-12 months if worn every day, telltale signs being worn soles or heels. Better rotate shoes for longer life.

■ Cold-weather shoes need room for toes to wiggle and feet in heavy socks to breathe.

■ Most people wear orthotics and rubber-soled shoes. (You’re not alone!)

■ Righthanders have longer and narrower left feet than right feet, and lefthanders have longer and narrower right feet than left feet.

■ Hudson taught a visitor a way to tie shoes so the laces don’t come undone.

At the entrance to the back room is a photo of Donald and Melania Trump that Hudson, bemused, displays because her father likes the president. Next to it is Psalm 37:5 that her son sent Hudson after her brother’s death: “God has a reason for allowing things to happen. We may never understand His wisdom, but we simply have to trust His will.”

Nearby is something that resembles a miniature Medieval rack. Actually, it stretches shoes, not bodies. Accompanying it is a two-pronged “ball-and circle” apparatus, featuring pincers with round ends used to stretch shoes in places where wearers have bunions, corns or hammer toes.

Shoppers browsed among hundreds of shoes, boots, sneakers and slippers. Hudson and Bombardier still had much to do when the store had no visitors, like re-stacking vacancies on shelves where shoes had been sold; receiving and unpacking deliveries from UPS and FedEx; placing shoes in the front window. Hudson pushed a filled box down a chute to the cellar. “We have a whole lot of shoes down there, and more in the back room,” she said. “My grandparents built all the shelves. Oh, my back! I’m getting too old for this.”

Hudson and Bombardier told shoe stories, like the one about a jogger complaining of bleeding toes and no toenails. He was wearing a size 12 when he needed a 14. “Nine out of 10 people come in with shoes that are too small,” Hudson said. “They think if they’re been an 8 that they’ll be an 8 forever.”

Few visits to Ted’s compared with the scene at Bag Day on November 23. That’s when shoppers with special bags got a 20% discount on a purchase at one of many selected stores, Ted’s being one of them. There was a staff of five for the occasion, including Millor, Terry Cooper and the late John Dumas Jr.’s son Jonathan Dumas.

Hudson, Bombardier and Millor bustled back and forth getting shoes from the back room, passing the family’s 87-year-old patriarch, John (Jack) Dumas Sr., paying his bills and still fit from yoga. “You can’t buy shoes online,” he said. “The same sized shoe from the same manufacturer will vary [because of different length shoe horses among other things]. Could be one eighth of an inch off, and that can give you bad feet. You got bad feet, you got a problem.”




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