Brandon has been incorporated for 137 years, and Union Shoe Store has been there for most of it.
The store is celebrating its 90th anniversary this year. While there was a shoe business established in 1924 previous to Alex and George Mehos’ arrival from Greece, its current incarnation began when the brothers purchased it in 1929.
Descendant Bob Pappas, who is less hands-on with the business these days, and his wife Angela, who manages the store, are keeping it going all these decades later.
Originally the business made custom shoes and repairs at a location at 924 Rosser Ave.
"When my father-in-law took over the business in 1958, he didn’t make shoes anymore because he wasn’t a trained cobbler," Angela said.
She added that Bob’s father, Constantine, better known to his customers as "Gus", starting selling work boots out of the store because he saw a need within the community.
However, the original location was too small to handle both shoe repair and retail, so he moved the retail business to a another location at 618 Rosser Ave., where it is still located today. Eventually, the repair business moved over, as well.
When Gus retired from full-time work in 1987, Bob ended up taking over.
"I grew up in the business, so I haven’t really done anything else," Bob said.
Angela had a career in the grocery industry, but eventually took over operations at the store when Bob went to focus on another business venture. However, Bob keeps an office in the building and helps out when needed.
Bob’s cousin, Bill Karavas, worked on shoe repair, but his death in 2007 left the business without a full-time repairer.
Garth Epp now does shoe repair out of the building’s basement under the name "The Shoe Repair Store" and the Pappas family is focused solely on retail.
"It’s a separate business from us now, but we do work parallel to each other," Angela said. "It’s very much a complement to the shoe shop."
As proof that the business stands behind their goods, all employees including Angela wear shoes from the store. Currently, because it is one of the busier seasons for the industry, the store has approximately 4,000 pairs of shoes in stock.
While there are many stores selling shoes these day, Angela said that Union sets itself apart through customer service.
As an example, she said she helps elderly customers who come into the store take shoes on and off as they shop for a new pair.
They work with customers with special requirements, like having one leg longer than the other, making adjustments to shoes to make them comfortable.
To give back to the community that has kept their family in business for nine decades, Angela said she makes personal visits to nursing homes at no extra charge to help people with mobility issues find shoes.
In celebration of their 90th anniversary, the store donated $2 for every pair of shoes sold to Samaritan House. They’re once again doing the same fundraiser for October. The first fundraiser raised $906.
Two of the Pappas’ kids spent time working in the store but have since made careers in other fields.
However, two of their granddaughters, aged 9 and 11, have expressed interest in helping out at the family business and have spent time working there as recently as this summer.
Before he died five years ago, Gus spent time working at the store into his 90s.
On some days, there would be multiple generations of the family working together at the same time.
The Pappas aren’t sure who will take over the store when they retire, but Angela said she’s not close to hanging up her boots yet.
"It is really important for us that the business go on, and that’s why I’m here," Angela said.
Who knows, a younger generation of the family may yet decide to follow in their ancestors’ well-crafted footsteps.
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