VIRGINIA — “47 years is long enough,” Dee Skoog said about the shoe store she and her husband, Les, have operated for nearly half a century. Skoog’s Bootery sold its last pair of shoes earlier this month, marking the end of a Chestnut Street staple.
Les had been in the shoe business for many years when he and Dee opened the Bootery in March 1973. He started working for shoe manufacturer Thom McAn, and then he was hired as an assistant buyer at Dayton’s department store in Minneapolis. Working for Dayton’s took him across the country, and he traveled to New York City once or twice per month.
Les decided he wanted to run his own shoe store, so the Skoogs looked at several locations before deciding the Bootery was the most financially appealing. The store was once one of four Bootery locations and had been in business since the 1930s. When the Skoogs purchased the Bootery, it was located at the northeast corner of Chestnut Street and 4th Avenue.
When Les and Dee Skoog moved to Virginia, the city’s 12,000 residents had ample shopping opportunities downtown. The Thunderbird Mall was brand new, and Chestnut Street was still a vibrant commercial hub. The Bootery was conveniently located next to department stores such as Ketola’s and Herberger’s.
The store moved to its current, larger building in 2000. “We expected to be here five years, and here we are,” Dee said.
“I just couldn’t get her out of it,” Les replied with a laugh. He retired from day-today operations a while ago but still came to the store to visit with Dee and customers.
“They’ve been so involved in the community and downtown life since they got the store in ‘73,” said longtime employee Lutasha Mott.
Over 47 years, the Skoogs developed a loyal clientele that often required special shoes that could not be purchased elsewhere. The Bootery carried a broader selection of fits for people with foot issues.
Surprisingly, online shopping and big box stores hadn’t significantly impacted the Bootery’s sales in recent years. Those retailers “don’t want to deal with troublesome feet,” according to Les. People who couldn’t wear low-end footwear came from as far away as International Falls and Ely, and the sit-and-fit store, as they say in the industry, had many repeat customers.
Bootery shoppers often had to realize that comfort is more important than fashion. “For a lot of customers, that takes a little evolving,” Dee said. “They develop foot issues in their 30s and 40s and they’re used to wearing fun, cute shoes, then all of a sudden, they have to get used to practical shoes. They hear it better from foot doctors than from us.” Lutasha Mott was the Bootery’s other employee and began working there in high school just shy of 15 years ago. She calls Les and Dee an extra set of parents and stops in every day to say hello. Mott and Dee Skoog have become close friends and confidants who enjoy golf and drinking beer together.
“I learned from the best,” Mott said. “Dee taught me what I needed to know. Having worked there and knowing them, they’ve helped build me into the person I am now.”
“I’m so lucky to have them and get to know the people they know, their friends and the network they have in the community,” she continued.
Since the beginning, the Skoogs’ dogs— mostly chihuahuas and one chocolate Lab—have also been around to keep the owners company and to greet customers. One of their current canines, Cha Cha, was once on a Northern State Bank billboard.
Les and Dee normally spend their winters in Arizona and Florida, but the couple is staying put at their Ely Lake home due to COVID-19. The Bootery will be selling clothing and decorations through November 28.
Tucker Nelson lives in Virginia with his fiancé and soonto be stepson. He can be reached at email@example.com.