RED WING -- When John Renschen was in tenth grade, a friend of his was leaving to serve in Vietnam. He would be leaving his job at Walt’s Shoe Service in Red Wing, and he told John to apply for that position.
John interviewed for the job and owner Walt Oliver hired him.
“I didn’t even have a driver’s license,” John said. “He was just a good guy to work for, so I stuck it out. I learned all about repairing shoes and boots.”
That was in 1967, and through the years, the working relationship between Walt and John proved to be a good one.
“After I worked here for 10 years, instead of giving me a raise, he gave me 25% of the business,” John said. “When I bought the business in 1984, I only had to buy 75%, because I already owned 25%.”
John then returned the favor and hired Walt to work for him for several years.
Eventually John brought his wife, Heidi, into the business. They sold Red Wing Shoes in one part of the store, and continued the repair business in the other half.
“A lot of people come in here because they want to deal with the little guy,” John said. “They want to work with a local store, a small store.”
The Renschens have had customers from all over the country stop at 312 W. Fourth St. and buy boots. Many have continued to buy boots over the years, and the Renschens have mailed boots to Alaska, Maine, Montana, California and elsewhere.
Now, however, after 53 years of going to the same store five or six days each week, John and Heidi have closed the store. Their final day was Oct. 30.
Once word got out that Walt’s Shoe Services was closing, John said the repair orders came rushing in.
“It was getting to the point that I had to stop taking orders,” John said. “I ended up getting orders for 30 buildups in a 10-day period. I got them all done.”
Heidi didn’t waste any time figuring out what she was going to do next. She started work on Nov. 2 as a teller at First Farmers and Merchants Bank in Red Wing.
John is a little less sure of his plans, but said he will go bowhunting in the fall, fishing in the winter, and turkey hunting in the spring.
“I’ll find something to do,” he said. “I’ve had a job since I was about 10. I had a paper route with 100 customers. My dad was the custodian at the Catholic school, and I would work up there painting with him.”
While John and Heidi are excited about the new directions their lives will be taking, they feel a sadness about leaving the customers they have worked with for so many years.
“So many people stop by to see how we are doing and to visit,” John said. “That’s what I’ll miss.”
In the final days before closing, Heidi had to make several calls to make sure people picked up boots or shoes they had ordered.
“A few of them are longtime customers, and the tears start flowing, and I’m trying to talk to them on the phone,” she said. “When you enjoy the work so much, it is not a job. We have enjoyed being with our community. We thank everybody that became our family.”