Once headed toward extinction, Allen Edmonds found new life by rediscovering its soul. A bastion of traditional American style for decades, the company had drifted to European designs and discontinued some of its best-selling models by the time Grangaard arrived. Longtime customers fretted.
“It really made me sad,” says Bill Woodward, a magnetic resonance imaging technologist and an Allen Edmonds loyalist who lives in Portland, Ore. “I thought, ‘What’s it going to become?’ ”
Woodward’s love affair with Allen Edmonds began in 1988, when he was fresh out of college and working for General Electric in Wisconsin. His co-workers wore Allen Edmonds shoes and suggested he do the same. But when he went to buy a pair, the wingtips he wanted cost $200. It was beyond his budget.
“The salesman said, ‘What can you afford?’ ” Woodward recalls. “I said, ‘I could go a hundred and a half.’ ”
And the deal was made.
“He said, ‘You’re going to have these things for life if you give them a little care,’ ” remembers Woodward, who still has the shoes (plus three dozen more pairs) and wears them regularly, thanks to Allen Edmonds’ recrafting service, in which old shoes — 60,000 pairs a year — are refurbished to as-new condition.
Woodward’s fears about Allen Edmonds disappeared by 2009, when the company reintroduced best-sellers dating back decades in a line dubbed Timeless Classics. “We brought them back, and the customers came back to us,” Grangaard says. “We got back in the mainstream of what men always liked in shoes.”
The move came around the time that Chris Murray, who teaches political science at the Marquette University Les Aspin Center for Government in Washington, D.C., had a sartorial epiphany.
“I got to a point a couple of years ago where I got tired of looking at my wardrobe and seeing things that were out of style and [lacking in] quality,” Murray says. “I was tired of buying shoes every year or so.”
Murray bought his first Allen Edmonds and now owns more than a half-dozen pairs, his most recent acquired during a pilgrimage with his father to the company’s factory seconds store in Port Washington, Wis., which sells pairs of nearly every model imaginable that don’t meet first-quality standards — though it’s nearly impossible to discern the difference.
Even though they live some 3,000 miles apart, Woodward and Murray agree: Made in America makes a difference, and Allen Edmonds is a special company.
“Aside from the quality of the shoes, I really appreciate that they’re made in the United States and [that the company is] committed to making them here,” Murray says. “I don’t feel like, when I’ve purchased something from them, that’s the end of the relationship.”