The Shoe Industry: A Perfect Fit for Lynchburg July 03 2014

When you think of shoe capitals, certain places come to mind—New York City, Milan, Paris and even Holland with their wooden shoes. A city that likely doesn’t come to mind, however, is Lynchburg. That’s right: Our fair city has a history steeped in the world of shoes.

In the early 1900s, Craddock Terry Shoe Company was one of Lynchburg’s largest employers, one of the United States’ most faithful suppliers during World War II and the fifth largest shoe manufacturer and distributor in the world. That’s a pretty hefty tout for a city with only around 18,000 residents at the time, according to U.S. Census records.

Though Craddock Terry Shoe Company has since been replaced by the Craddock Terry Hotel, Lynchburg still has its foot in the shoe industry—with businesses like Consolidated Shoe Company, Riverside Runners and Capps Shoe Company keeping local and national shoe enthusiasts well-stocked in numerous styles.

Consolidated Shoe Company (CSC), established in 1898, is headquartered right in Lynchburg on Timberlake Road. Specializing in fashionable yet affordable footwear, Consolidated has six unique brands to its name, which cater to the individual styles of the typical CSC client.

“We focus more on individual brands and creating an experience around those brands that extend past the product into the lifestyle of the consumer. We used to be ‘jobbers’—we made products for other people. Now we create product for specific consumers in a niche market,” Amy Gallagher, Consolidated’s Director of Marketing, explained. “We have six brands that each own a different part of the market. There’s no cross over; everything has its own personality.”

Another local shoe distributor that is making leaps in the national market is Old Dominion Footwear. Located in Madison Heights, Old Dominion owns a 50,000 square foot facility which is responsible for distributing exclusive brands such as Duck Head Footwear, AquaDuck Waterproof Footwear, Lalla and Lalla Lew, a children’s line.

As for Lynchburg, it is also still keeping Craddock Terry’s military influence alive through Capps Shoe Company, located on Monticello Avenue. Capps, a lesser known shoe company to civilians, is the only shoe manufacturer in the area. With their manufacturing facility in Gretna and their headquarters in Lynchburg, Capps’ 200 employees produce approximately 2,000 pairs of shoes per day. The military influence comes from Capps being a primary manufacturer of men’s issue shoes and dress oxfords for the United States Army and United States Marine Corps, and women’s issue shoes for the United States Navy, Airforce and Army, as well as primary manufacturer for most of the pumps for PX’s (Post Exchanges) around the world.

“In addition to our military work, we also have five women’s branded lines,” Tom Capps, President of Capps, said. “We specialize in hard-to-fit feet and make over 100 sizes. That’s why we’re able to exist against imports—we’re able to fit a lot of people who couldn’t be fitted with imported shoes.”

Founded a mere 16 years ago in 1994, Capps has seen quite a few changes in a short time.

“We had a lot more domestic manufacturers when we started than now—we have less competition than we used to have,” Capps said. “We have developed a good reputation of quality in our customer base, specifically with the Department of Defense. We have received major contracts that have enabled us to maintain steady business. Because of that business, we’re now the largest employer in Gretna.”

While it seems like business is running smoothly and successfully the way it is, Capps says there are always areas in which to grow.

“We have converted a new section of the [Gretna] factory into a high-end manufacturing facility which will make women’s dress shoes totally out of leather, which will compete with Italian shoes,” he said. “The line is more fashionable than what we typically carry. We should launch the line under the Valley and Johansen labels in the fall.”

With all of the changes and growth in the local shoe industry, however, Capps still remembers where it all started.

“Lynchburg is a shoe hub for a city of its size. There are more shoe people here than any place I know of. All of the shoe companies have provided a lot of business and jobs in Lynchburg and Craddock Terry Shoe Company had a strong impact, not just locally, but on the shoe business throughout the country. At some point, we all started in some manner with Craddock Terry. They had a significant impact and influence,” he said.

Rounding out the veritable shoe powerhouse are businesses like Riverside Runners, which specializes in fitting the running community with the proper footwear, Western Ways, which caters towards the equestrian crowd, Hamilton’s Shoe Salon, which carries an assortment of men’s and women’s shoes, and Alta Shoe Shop, which specializes in casual footwear, work boots and even shoe repair.

Though it’s fun to travel to the Big Apple for a Carrie Bradshaw-esque shoe excursion, those of us who can’t live without our uniquely crafted, fashion-forward kicks needn’t look any further than our own backyard.