Stepping back in time in an old-fashioned shoe store
WILKES-BARRE, Pa. (AP) – At Penn-Lee Footwear in Wilkes-Barre, they do business the old-fashioned way.
Just like it was done in the 1960s, employees at the privately owned shoe store are dedicated to providing customer service and measure customers’ feet by hand.
They still use shoehorns and Brannock devices, the standard foot-measuring tools named after inventor Charles Brannock.
“We measure everybody’s foot and we measure their width. A lot of our shoes come in a narrow to extra wide width,” said Lauren Zurek, manager and daughter of owner Stanley Zurek. “We offer diabetic shoe services as well.”
Penn-Lee Footwear has been in business for 57 years and visiting the store is like stepping back in time.
It opened in 1961 in its same location at 163 E. Main St. in Wilkes-Barre and it remains one of the oldest privately owned shoe stores in Northeast Pennsylvania.
Owner Stanley Zurek, 68, started working at Penn-Lee in 1972 and was the manager for 30 years.
The original owner was the late Leo Pensieri. Zurek purchased the store from the second owner, the late Frank Mattei.
In 2003, Zurek purchased Penn-Lee Footwear and turned it into his family business.
Zurek expanded the store’s inventory of footwear styles and brands and there are now about 50 brands of casual shoes and work boots.
“We have about 200 styles of safety shoes,” he said.
He said the customer service and fitting service the store provides sets it apart from some big chain stores where customers have to grab their own size and colors themselves from stacks of shoes.
“We don’t do what everybody else does,” he said. “When you get shoes here, you sit down, we measure your foot, we talk to you, we find out what your problems are and what you need. People come here for service. Chain stores don’t do this stuff. The only person who is going to do this is going to be a private business, not a corporation.”
Penn-Lee Footwear serves people with disabilities and medical problems who require more attention and service when being fitted for shoes, he said.
Zurek also launched the Penn-Lee shoe truck, which specializes in safety toe shoes and boots and delivers footwear to manufacturing and warehousing facilities throughout Northeast and Central Pennsylvania.
The truck is a unique way to bring safety footwear to customers in the region and customers are fitted on site.
“It’s basically a shoe store on wheels,” Zurek said.
Other out-of-town corporations provide this service, but Zurek said Penn-Lee Footwear is the only locally owned shoe store that does this.
The truck fits many workers for shoes in the Humboldt Industrial Park in Hazleton and many companies pay for workers’ safety shoes, he said.
Zurek typically accompanies two to four employees on the truck to fit workers for safety shoes.
“We can reach customers who wouldn’t come to the store,” he said. “It reaches a lot more people.”