Crowe Boot & Shoe paves the way in
Holly Crowe of Carlinville recently accepted the honor of Crowe Boot & Show being awarded Business of the Year from the Carlinville Chamber of Commerce during their awards dinner Oct. 24.
By JORDAN GRUCZA
Enquirer Democrat Reporter
Holly Crowe of Carlinville was taken aback when the Carlinville Chamber of Commerce honored Crowe Boot & Shoe with the Business of the Year award at their annual awards dinner on Oct. 24. Chamber member Tim Rhodus cited that the business was given the award for being a “pace-setting difference maker” for the small business culture in Carlinville.
“I think what caught the chamber’s attention was that over the past year we’ve done tuckpointing on the south and east sides of the building, we painted the whole east side of the building, removed old awnings,” said Crowe. “We also partnered with Marvel Theatre to pay for the parking lot between us, as we own up to 11 feet from their building. It’s just for the benefit of both of us.
“The thing that resonates most is the continued support that we’ve received from the community,” Crowe said. “We try to have a presence on social media to keep everyone informed of what’s going on, and we just feel like there have been a lot of cheerleaders for us. They seem to be happy with the improvements that we’re making. It’s fulfilling.
After purchasing the property on West Main Street four years ago, Crowe opened the business after a year of preparation and the community has responded with overwhelming interest and support.
“We looked at the town and asked ourselves what Carlinville needs,” Crowe said. “This is a prime property on main street with all these storefront windows and we thought something awesome needs to go in this building. We decided Carlinville needed a shoe store again.
“We went into this with zero background in retail,” Crowe said. “We knew it would be a challenge. We didn’t know anyone who has ever been in the footwear industry. We started from ground zero, researching and reaching out to a lot of different people, asking a lot of questions and we just kept at it. We learned as we went on and we’re still learning.
“It’s fun to follow along and watch new businesses take risks and succeed,” Crowe said. “For us, the leap of faith was buying the building. All the improvements that we’ve put into the building since we purchased it have cost us around $60,000.”
As anyone who lives in Macoupin County can attest to, there has been a steady decline of small businesses in rural communities, with downtown main streets becoming stretches of empty storefronts. This has caused a nosedive in morale among aspiring business owners.
“There’s a lot of talk about how you can’t do small businesses anymore because of big box retailers and because of e-commerce,” Crowe said. “We hear that small business is dead and no one can survive. I said I don’t believe that’s true. Let’s test it and see if we can make it work Three years later we’re still going and that is very encouraging to us not just as business owners but as people who live in the community.
“It’s encouraging to see other businesses putting money into properties. I feel like there’s this rally of support among the small business community. We’re trying to promote each other. It isn’t a competitive environment.
“Over time, some businesses are just going to go out of business,” Crowe said. “It could be for a variety of reasons, and not necessarily because the business doesn’t work. Maybe the business model didn’t work, maybe it’s because the owners couldn’t commit the time and money to keep investing in it, or they didn’t want to. Just because businesses are closing, it’s not necessarily an indicator that something was possible or not possible.
Since opening the business three years ago, Crowe has found that in the face of the challenges posed by e-commerce and big box stores, there are all kinds of needs that only a small business can fill.
“We own all our inventory,”
Crowe said. “We have to buy it and resell it, so we’ve had to learn what our customers’ needs our and what shoe sizes to stock.
“About 25 percent of our business is special orders,” Crowe said. “That’s been remarkable. People like to come here because they like to shop locally, they like that we have competitive prices, excellent service you won’t get online, and you can walk out with shoes the same day without having to wait for shipping. If they have special needs, like arch support, we can help guide them toward the footwear that will be best to solve or help with their problem.
“With e-commerce, there’s a while demographic of people who just love it because of the convenience,” Crowe said. “They don’t have to leave their couch, or they can do it on their lunch hour at work. They think about it, and then all of a sudden it’s on their way to them. They don’t have to plan to go to a store, and I get that.
“On the other hand, with businesses like ours, you can think about it and just walk right in and back out with a pair of new shoes. With us being in Carlinville, it means people in the area don’t have to make a 20 minute trip to Litchfield or an hour to St. Louis. Most of the brands we carry are what you’ll find in Springfield or St. Louis.”
While talking about the business, a customer, Joan Miller of Girard, noticed Crowe receiving a shipment of shopping bags for the store with “Shop Small” printed on the sides.
“That does not fit me at all,” Miller said. “I shop big when I come here.”