The walls and shelves in Clayton’s Shoe Store are covered with old family photos, military uniforms from World War II, nostalgic signs and even a penny-farthing still decorated in red and green streamers from when it was ridden by Clayton Hart during the town Christmas parade. The employees still use the cash register from the 1900s. Right away, one can tell that it is not just another shoe store. It is a legacy.
“We date all the way back to 1882 when my great-great-grandfather James Clayton Sr. came over from England and became a cobber in Tullahoma. His son James “Zippy” Clayton was working for a shoe store right down the street and bought it in 1900, starting Clayton and Company,” current owner Florence Hull said. “After Zippy, his daughter, my grandmother, actually owned the store but didn’t work here. A cousin named Clayton Hart worked here for my grandfather for 65 years and retired at age 80, earning him a spot on our wall. Then my daddy Robert Goode Ratcliffe came next. In 1978, I bought my sisters out and became the sole proprietor.”
The staff still uses the original cash register, seats and displays from way back, giving the store its famous vintage ambience.
“Our goal is to provide men, women and children with the highest quality shoes and services around,” Hull said. “Back in 1978, I had to decide what was going to keep us here and successful. I figured that it made sense to continue with what we had been doing by offering quality service and fit.”
“We try to measure every customer’s foot when they come in. It is a fact that your nose, feet and ears never stop growing, so measuring the foot is very important,” she said. “Not only do you learn your true size, you also find out if your shoe size should be wide or narrow, which is very important when it comes to comfort and fit.”
“We also pride ourselves in the orthopedic selection we have. We can fit customers for that and the prices are not bad compared to other orthopedic selections,” she said.
Clayton’s sells shoe care polish, dye, glue, Long Shoe Horns, Fresh Force, Arch Cookies, Jox Sox, New Balance socks, pads, fresh foam and orthotic brands including SAS, New Balance, Powerstep and Spenco. Other popular brands sold there are Merrell, Dunham, Nunn Bush, L.B. Evans, Dansko, Rockport, Aravon, Daniel Green, Drew and Ros Hommerson.
Hull has many pieces of memorabilia given to her by customers, including a pair of shoes from Clayton’s that a woman named Vera Mae Cawthron was fitted for at Clayton’s as a child in 1946. The pair has since been bronzed and placed on a plaque inscribed with the woman’s name and the date Sept. 3, 1946.
“She knew that if she kept it at home, it would be given away or lost somehow,” Hull explained. “When she asked me if I would put it specifically on a marble table by the lamp in the store, I happily agreed.”
“People are beginning to bring me things including a Buster Brown bank from McMinnville. They know it will stay with my collection if they leave it with me,” Hull said. She has many more stories similar to that. A cased shelf sits on the other side of the antique desk that holds the vintage register. Inside of it are several antique items that she has been given over the years, including a Buster Brown comic book.
“I am very much for Tullahoma,” Hull said. “Tullahoma still has The Tullahoma News. I feel like there are a lot of people that read The News whether it be in paper or online. Through the years, I have had some of the best advertisements in the paper. I have some ads from 100 years ago. We have been doing it for a long time and will continue to do so.”
“It is amazing how many people come from the surrounding areas. I have customers from Fayetteville, Tracy City and McMinnville. People come by when they are visiting from out of state,” Hull said. “This is a dying breed and it is necessary because when someone’s feet hurt, they need help finding the right shoe. That is what is important to us.”
“People also enjoy coming back and looking at all of the old things I have collected in here, too,” Hull said. “They like to come look at the original ceiling and all of the photos of Tullahoma from the early 1900s.”
On a wall near the register, there is a sign that reads “Tullahoma” with three photos hung around it. The large middle photo is snapshot of what the store looked like back in 1952. “My dad is in it on the right along with Annie Osborne who had just been hired here. She is 86 and still works two days a week for me.” The other two are from the early 1900s of a street festival with a full band out on the street.
2020 is also the 120th anniversary of Clayton’s Shoe Store. “Every last Wednesday of the month, we are going to have a 120 year celebration with popcorn, cold drinks, giveaways and all kinds of fun stuff,” Hull said. “We also have a storewide 20% off sale for the time being.” The 12 parties will last all day at Clayton’s, the first one kicking off the celebration on Jan. 29.
“Come celebrate with us and stay tuned for more good things to come during our year-long celebration of 120 years at Clayton’s,” she said. “I am very excited and proud to have this history. I love what I do.”
“We also have new hours, Tuesday through Friday 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Saturday 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. We are closed on Sunday and Monday,” Hull said.
For more information on what Clayton’s has to offer as well as more details on the celebration, visit their Facebook page “Clayton’s Shoe Store” and their website www.claytonsshoes.com or call 455-2722.
Katelyn Lawson may be reached at email@example.com.