Allen Shoe Store

Ancestors, Legends & Time

Uncomfortable but profitable

Jeanne Newby

Have you ever noticed those pinched, high top shoes in most old photos? Can you think of anything more uncomfortable looking other than the corset of days gone by? When I think of old uncomfortable shoes, I remember a “Little Rascals” episode where the kids earn some money to buy their mom a new dress and new shoes. With the amount of money they earned they couldn’t afford much. That Sunday morning, as the mother walked to church wearing her new clothes with pride, she couldn’t stand up on the shoes. They were leaning side to side with each step! Now that is a mother putting her children’s feelings ahead of her own.

Webb City has had a few shoe stores in the past, and one in particular belonged to Walter Lee and Alma Martin. They had a pretty good business going in Webb City. This couple had purchased the B.B. Allen Shoe Store from Mr. B.B. Allen himself. The store was located at 112 N. Allen (Main) St.

Each month, Walter would send his payment to B.B. Allen in San Diego, Calif. Mr. Allen would respond with comments. One letter from Mr. Allen had the following statement: “I am much pleased to hear of your good looking store. I hope you have not made it so attractive that your old patrons will avoid you thinking it too stylish. There be a few in this world that are not at home unless surrounded with plenty of dirt and antiquated methods. They argue that someone must ‘pay the freight’!”

Well, Walter must have been a shrewd business person, as his shoe store continued to thrive. Business was so good that the couple decided to build a new house. They were living at 421 N. Pennsylvania, and Walter began planning and designing their new house. They purchased land at 10 S. Roane St., and in 1916, they built and paid for the new residence.

All work makes for a dull boy, so Walter kept busy with the Masonic, Scottish Rite, Shrine and Blue Lodge organizations. Alma was busy with the Belle Letters Club, the Century Club and the Women’s Club. They both enjoyed membership at the Oak Hill Golf Club and the Presbyterian Church.

Later on in years, Walter was offered an opportunity to become a traveling shoe salesman with the New York Shoe Co. He decided it would provide him and Alma a chance to see the world. They sold the store and hit the road. They traveled a lot and took many pictures. They really enjoyed going out to California. They had a special friend they liked to visit out there. His name was Will Rogers, and he never met a man he didn’t like!

Around 1924, Walter and Alma decided they were ready to settle down again. They bought a house in Joplin at 602 N. Byers St., and Walter went into business with his brother. Edward Martin, John F. Martin, E.A. Martin, and V.C. Martin, along with Walter founded the Martin Transfer Co. Each brother had a business of his own, and then combined interest in the Transfer Co. Later, they bought the Joplin Transfer and Storage Co. Walter was secretary for the Transfer Co. and also served as District Agent for the National Life Insurance Co. His office was in the Frisco Building.

When Walter passed away in 1938, women were just beginning to prove to the male population that they weren’t as helpless and defenseless as the men always told them they were. Alma became the vice president of Joplin Transfer and Storage, and she did a mighty fine job. And when it came to time to sell, she also handled that pretty well too.

After working so hard, Alma decided to enjoy her remaining years. She spent each day, either traveling, playing golf, playing cards or just visiting with friends. She kept an agenda book that noted how busy this lady was.

Those old shoes may have been uncomfortable for the women, but they sure made Walter’s life a little better!

Jeanne’s new book, “The Zinc City, Webb City, Missouri” is now available at Webb City Chamber Office.

Jeanne Newby

A lot of us appreciate the Bradbury Bishop Fountain, but Jeanne actually worked behind the counter making sodas while she was in high school. She knows everything about Webb City and is a member of the Webb City R-7 School Board.