Boxes stacked on the sidewalk outside Uncle Herman's Chattanooga Shoe Store in this 1950 photo suggest the downtown shop was a busy place in the middle of the 20th century.
Indeed, for much of its run from late 1920s until the early 1980s, the shoe store in the 800 block of Market Street revolutionized off-price retailing, often featuring imperfect shoes bought at a discount from factories alongside regularly-priced footwear for the whole family.
This photo from October 1950 was taken by Chattanooga Free Press photographer Delmont Wilson. The image appears on the website ChattanoogaHistory.com curated by history enthusiast Sam Hall.
The Uncle Herman's Chattanooga Shoe Store building, at 820 Market St., was dramatically renovated in 1956. Newspaper reports at the time called it an "extreme remodeling," and some may remember the resulting checkerboard facade which was made using black stucco. The cost of the redo was reported at $30,000.
Inside the store, a balcony area was reserved for off-price shoes while the ground floor was for "the children's department and higher grade shoes," according to a newspaper report at the time of the remodel.
In 1980, a print ad for the store touted the new Playboy brand of upscale shoes for men, then costing $52 a pair, or about $165 in today's dollars. The brand's slogan was: "For men who want to put their best foot forward while they are a step ahead."
Launched by history enthusiast Sam Hall in 2014, ChattanoogaHistory.com is maintained to present historical images in the highest resolution available.
If you have photo negatives, glass plate negatives, or original non‐digital prints taken in the Chattanooga area, contact Sam Hall for information on how they may qualify to be digitized and preserved at no charge.
The owner of the Chattanooga Shoe Store, Herman Brener, was the son of a Lithuanian immigrant. He apparently got the nickname "Uncle Herman," not from having a slew of nieces and nephews, but because of his reputation as a genial merchant who ran a child-friendly store. For example, a drawing for a free bike was a common store promotion.
Brener, a graduate of McCallie School, said he conceived the idea for a "job-lot" shoe store featuring merchandise that he bought from factories that included "samples, cancellations, slightly imperfect [shoes] and surplus stocks."
For many years the store was supervised by general manager and vice president J.R. (Jeff) Durham, who went to work there while still a student at McCallie and stayed for decades. He died in 1993, according his newspaper obituary.
Brener died in 1969, according to newspaper reports, but the store continued to operate into the early 1980s when it was torn down to make way for Miller Plaza, the expansion of Miller Park across M.L. King Boulevard.
A newspaper article in December 1983 noted that the building had been bought by the Chattanooga Housing Authority, one of eight parcels bought for $1.8 million to make way for the park expansion.
A 1982 "going out of business" ad touted the store as "The South's Greatest Bargain Center Since 1929." The ad noted that the store's last day was July 3, 1982, and everything would be sold, right down to the vacuum cleaner.
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