Two men working in a shoe store

By: usermattw

Oct 25 2012


Category: Men, Pairs


Click here to view it larger.

What it is:

Photo (6.75 x 4.75 inches) mounted to a cardboard backing (10 x 8 inches; I’ve cropped most of the backing from the scan).

What I know about it:

Nothing!  Undated and unidentified.


The sign at the back refers to the W. L. Douglas Shoe Company.  Founded in Brockton, Massachusetts, in 1876, it was very successful until around WWI, after which sales started to fall and it was bought by another company.  But it was the first shoe company to have its own chain of retail stores, in its heyday having as many as 78 to 105 (depending on which source you read) scattered across the country, in addition to having its shoes sold by other retailers.  Meanwhile, the William Lewis Douglas who founded this company entered politics at the height of his financial success and became Governor of Massachusetts!  (Apparently his political career didn’t match the popularity of his shoes.  One of his first actions was a failed attempt to establish a leper colony in Brewster, MA, and it was downhill from there.)  I don’t know if this is one of the dedicated Douglas shoe stores, or a store that happens to sell Douglas shoes.  As far as I can tell, it could be anywhere in the country.  The sign inside suggests to me that Douglas shoes are just one of the lines this store carries, but I could be wrong.  I’m also not sure what the man on the left is holding, though it appears to be an unlaced boot (plus, by the way, a cigar).  The lighting is awkward enough that it’s not clear.  It seems he’s wearing an apron, or at least has some protective covering in his lap, which suggests he might be engaged in shoe repair.  I’m guessing the guy at the desk was doing some bookkeeping, and the guy in the apron interrupted him to give him a progress report, or perhaps to show off some new merchandise.  But who knows?  (And that’s assuming there’s an actual story behind this scene, that the store employees aren’t staging a completely phony pose for some reason.)  Speaking of the lighting, there seems to be a bright light pouring in from behind the camera (perhaps sunlight?), while the window at the back seems to be covered (at first I thought it was just dark out, but note the way the shade billows out at the bottom).  My guess is that sunlight is streaming in from the front of the store, while these two men are working in the back.  But, as always, I’m open to other suggestions.  Meanwhile, if anyone is interested, here is a vintage picture of the Douglas Shoe Company factory in Brockton.

8 comments on “Two men working in a shoe store”

  1. Matt, have you ever noticed that if you are in a movie theater and there is a smokey scene people in the theater start coughing? Happens every time. In that same way this photo makes me smell shoes and polish. It has the comforting smell of fresh leather. I think it is all quite intriguing too, and the history you provide is fun.

    • Mike, thanks, what a nice comment. All the formal studio portraits I have are fun to look at, but it’s these slice-of-life photos that I think really help take you back to the feel of another time and place. I’m glad you had that reaction. I wish I had more of these photos, and I need to post more of the ones I have, even when the images aren’t flawless.

  2. Yes, please post more of the ones you have! This is wonderful.

  3. Great picture, even with the bad lighting. I think the man holding the shoe has a piece of leather on his lap as the edges are not evenly cut which they would be if it was a smock or apron. I would love to see more of the chair the other gentleman is sitting on. It appears to be one with a side desk attachment. And that roll top desk is very cool too!

  4. OMG I love this photo. I can’t explain why, but it’s terribly evocative. Too bad you can’t tell the year from the calendar on the wall, or read the cards/photos on top of the desk. I also find it interesting that the guy on the left has a ring on the ring finger of his right hand. He’s actually quite dapper with that cravat and those cufflinks.

    • I’m glad you like it. It seems to have resonated with people more than many of the others I’ve posted. It’s at once to familiar and yet so different from life as we know it.

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