Ralph's Shoe Service Relocates
In late December, Bill Roase removed his denim apron covered with streaks of shoe polish and gobs of glue. The third-generation owner of Ralph’s Shoe Service left the doors open, but emotions kept him from working.
Customers came in, cried, hugged him, donated money and offered words of encouragement at the news that the last original tenant of Southdale Mall wouldn’t be in business there in 2012.
“It hurt me to see them hurt,” Roase says, adding later, “What am I supposed to do now? This is what I’ve been doing my whole life.”
When TV segments aired and newspaper stories were published on the news of Roase’s bitter divorce after a 55-year partnership with the nation’s first indoor mall, well-wishers donated more than $1,200 dollars, a Minneapolis moving company volunteered to help and more than 1,500 people “liked” a Facebook page titled “Save Ralph’s Shoe Service.”
“We have great customers,” says Ron Roase, who preceded Bill as owner of the store from 1972 to 2001. “How nice they’ve been and are doing things they didn’t need to do.”
Bill Roase says the support gave him resolve to fight for his business and find a new location.
“The more support I had, the more mad I got,” Roase says. “They weren’t going to take this from me.”
With the help and dedication of many, Bill Roase was able to don his denim apron again in March as Ralph’s Shoe Service reopened in a Richfield strip mall on Penn Avenue.
John Roslin, owner of Ruth Piano Movers, volunteered to move Ralph’s after watching a TV news story. His crew transported inventory, sewing machines, presses, nailers and buffing wheels from Southdale to Roase’s Bloomington garage in December, and then in February, to the new store in Richfield.
As a fellow small-business owner, Roslin says the story resonated with him.
“It’s sad they did that to him,” Roslin says. “It hit me in the heart.”
Marci Matson, executive director of the Edina Historical Society, has written about Ralph’s struggle on her blog [Edinahistoricalsociety.org/1/post/2011/12/monday-mashup-edina-in-csi-ralphs-shoe-repair-and-more.html] and reminded readers of what previously transpired with Clancy’s lunch counter and Morningside Hardware, two Edina vestiges to a bygone era that failed to survive.
“Historic preservation groups and historical societies can save buildings and artifacts, but unfortunately, they can’t save business operations,” Matson wrote. “Only customers can do that. History has shown us that over and over again.”
“It wasn’t about taking sides because businesses are living, breathing things and if we try to keep things the way you want, there would still be a blacksmith shop on 50th and France,” Matson adds in an interview.
Yet Ralph’s Shoe Service was able to find a new home, in part, because it is old fashioned.
Before Southdale, Bill’s grandfather Ralph Roase opened the first shop in 1947 on West 50th Street and Xerxes Avenue in Minneapolis. In 1956, with the help of his son, Ron, a second store opened in Southdale. Two years later, the Minneapolis storefront closed.
The Richfield location harkens back to its Minneapolis era. Bill Roase has placed the original sign out front. Customers are able to drive up to the door and drop their shoes off seconds later.
“It will be back to the old roots,” Bill Roase says proudly.
Ralph’s customers number in the thousands and travel from Osseo, Wayzata, St. Paul and even Iowa, Bill Roase says.
“I’ve got them coming from all over because there aren’t many people that do this anymore.”
However, the new store brings new concerns. Will Bill Roase be able to overcome the meager months of January and February when he didn’t earn an income and couldn’t collect unemployment? Will the customers remain faithful?
“I really hope it works,” he ponders, before adding, “There is just too much support behind it. It’s gonna work.”
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