Saturday, June 15, 2024

After 90 years this family-owned shop has closed its doors. The owner says online shopping has taken its toll

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In 1931, when Craig Simpson’s grandfather opened his boot-making business in suburban Newcastle, he may not have expected it to continue for almost a century.

Simpson Shoes in Lambton closed its doors for the last time earlier this month, ending a legacy that spanned more than 90 years and three generations.

Its final owner, Craig, said sadly he doesn’t see a future in the shoe business anymore as online shopping and the creation of large shopping centres have “changed” the retail sector.

Mr Simpson has fond memories of helping out his father and grandfather in the shop as a teenager. 

He would watch his grandfather Stephen tinker for hours in the back of the shop repairing and making shoes for his customers.

“You don’t see it done like that anymore,” Mr Simpson said.

Stephen Simpson making shoes in his workshop in Lambton.(Supplied: Craig Simpson)

His grandfather was a bootmaker, a trade that is hard to come by these days. 

Mr Simpson said he loved to watch his grandfather create shoes from scratch, many of which ended up on his own feet.

“He never wore a pair of shoes he didn’t make,” he said.

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Simpson Shoes began in 1931 after Stephen completed his boot-making apprenticeship.

“He rented out a little shed in the backyard of the Northumberland Hotel, the pub around the corner from where the shop is now 93 years later,” Mr Simpson said.

Stephen bought and moved to the shopfront at 100 Elder Street in April 1934, where it remained until its recent closure.

A family business 

Stephen Simpson worked in the shop repairing shoes for more than 70 years, until he was in his late 80s.

Steve Simpson on the front page of the Newcastle Herald in 1989 celebrating 70 years of being a bootmaker

Stephen Simpson on the front of the Newcastle Herald, celebrating 70 years of being a bootmaker in 1989.(ABC News: Keely Johnson)

His son, Kevin Simpson, also followed in his footsteps.

“Dad also did his trade as a shoe repairer,” Mr Simpson said.

“He could see the sale of new shoes was worth getting into.

“So he ran the shop selling new [mass-produced] shoes, and Pop kept doing the repairs.”

Stephen Simpson (right) with his wife and son Kevin out the front of the shop in Lambton. 

Stephen Simpson (right) with his wife and son Kevin out the front of the shop in Lambton. (Supplied: Craig Simpson)

Mr Simpson was about 16 years of age when he started working part-time at the shop and took over the business in his early 30s.

Now, after 47 years working at the shop, he has decided to retire. 

“It is sad, but it’s a personal decision. It’s just time to get out and enjoy doing other things,” he said. 

Some vintage shoes on display in Simpson Shoes shop.

Simpson Shoes was the oldest continuously running family business in Lambton.(ABC Newcastle: Keely Johnson)

Mr Simpson said independently-owned shoe shops have become a rarity. 

“Twenty years ago there used to be a shoe store in nearly every suburb in Newcastle,” he said.

“There’s very few of us left now.”

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