Interview

Got to Have Sole

Stuart Solup's family has run Irving's Shoes for over 20 years

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Stuart Solup knows shoes and the importance of the right fit. He is the fourth generation of his family to own and operate Irving’s Shoes, which began 119 years ago in Fall River by his great grandfather Joe. The store, which moved 35 years ago to its current location in Portsmouth, focuses on casual footwear and hard to fit feet in both narrow and wide sizes. Stuart runs the store single handily doing everything from sizing feet to offering shoe and handbag repair. An active member of the Lions Club in his town, the Somerset resident is the married father of two grown children and is awaiting the arrival of his first grandchild. Stuart frequently puts his own athletic shoes to the test playing a host of sports in his free time. Surrounded by boxes of inventory we talked about problem feet, the warmth of thermal lining and the secret ingredient to lasting 119 years in business.

The weather predications for this winter call for lots of snow and cold temperatures. What materials do you recommend for warmth in footwear?
Suede leather boots will keep the feet warmer. The suede has a material between the suede and the leather, which works as an insulator as opposed to just leather. The same theory applies to rubber boots – the cold goes right thru the rubber unless it has a thermal lining. It is important to use suede leather cleaner to water proof the suede boots once a month and if you do it the boots will stay clean and last great.

What is the number one foot problem for your customers?
Plantar fasciitis is a pain affecting the heel and underside of the foot. I have found over the last 30 years an increase of it in customers. I attribute it to a lot of working out, in particular the stress from running which tears the tissues. Other contributors include wearing pointed high heels, which has ruined a lot of women’s feet and wearing cheaply made shoes.

What can help in combating the pain?
People can try PT exercises but I feel orthotics work best. They make all the difference in the world. If I don’t wear my orthotics my feet starts hurting. I suggest orthotics even for customers buying work boots who might not have plantar fasciitis but because the insoles are so thin in the boots. I take the insoles out and have customers try the boots with the orthotics and they love how their feet feel.

When buying footwear what is important to keep in mind for comfort?
“Your best shoes should be your everyday work shoes,” my father used to say. Put your dollar into those shoes and not shoes for a wedding or special event. The difference in a good pair of shoes is in the quality of the material and manufacturing.

What are new styles in footwear this winter?
The popularity of the suede lined boot is still very much there. Uggs is still popular of course but for children the Bear Paws boots are great and affordable. It’s funny about style. I see the trends come back every 20-25 years. Converse sneakers are big again and the Sperry Top Sider is very hot. I always say keep your shoes because they will be back in style.

Do you carry any New England based shoe companies?
We carry Kamik boots, which is a Canadian based company, but a lot of the footwear is made in New Hampshire, and there is a sticker on the box that says Built in America. When we started carrying Kamik 35 years ago I said “Canada knows cold so they must be good” and the Kamiks are great winter boots!

What are the biggest repair issues you handle?
Repairing soles and heels! We repair 70-80 shoes a week and also lots of handbags and luggage involving the handles and zippers. I got trained by my grandfather who used to do it.

Local shoes stores are few and far between. What is your secret to the continuity of Irving Shoes being in business for 119 years?
Service! Service is what is going to save the small mom and pop specialty stores. If you go to a big store and ask for a certain size they will look at you like you have two heads. If someone comes in here saying, “this is the style I’m looking for, can you get it for me” I say sure! We are a full service shoe store where we fit you and don’t sell off the rack. I love solving feet problems for our customers.

Irving’s Shoes | 3001 E Main Rd # 1A, Portsmouth | 401-683-4444