VIRGINIA - Dee Skoog, co-owner of Skoog's Bootery with husband Les Skoog, has been "planning to retire for five years -- now it's time," she told the Mesabi Tribune in a recent interview. "It's been 47 years." In 1973, when the downtown was bustling with shoppers and employment at the mines was high, the Skoogs bought the shoe store that had been a mainstay in Virginia since the 1930s.
Dee Skoog said the exact closing date hasn't been set, but it will be sometime in October. Until that day, when she opens up shop for the last time, she will keep plying the trade she knows and loves. The retirement sale is ongoing with huge discounts, sometimes 70 to 80 percent off, and there is still a wide selection of quality footwear.
Les Skoog, who's originally from St. Croix Falls on the Wisconsin-Minnesota border, said that at the start of his career in footwear he operated a Thom McCann store, then was a shoe buyer for the Dayton's Company in Minneapolis and would travel to Europe quite often on buying trips. Now 85, he retired from his daily work at the store a decade ago but still stops by to visit with the coffee crowd that gathers at the back of the store. Dee Skoog, a St. Paul native, said they had learned the Bootery in Virginia was for sale and decided to come north.
In reminiscing about Virginia's downtown in the '70s, the Skoogs recalled all the men's clothing stores like Bourgin's, Palace Clothing, Alto's and Hub Clothiers at 323 Chestnut, where the Bootery is presently located. They talked of Herberger's, Robert's, Johnny's Apparel, Stevenson's, the Quality Shop, Penney's and the Co-op. There were the dimestores Woolworth's and McLellan's, and Perpich TV and Tini Plumbing and Heating, and many jewelry stores, Turen-Welsh, McCabe's, Gish, and John Maki's shop, their neighbor when the Bootery was on a corner at Fourth Street. Among the longstanding stores that make up the downtown business district today, the Skoogs said, are Shoes & Things, Grande's, Virginia Surplus, Range Office Supply and Schmitt Music.
Then Dee Skoog talked about the popular footwear brands that have served their customers well -- SAS, Dansko, Hugh Puppies, Soft Spots, Rockport, Naot, Merrell and New Balance. "It's very satisfying when people walk out of the store with happy feet."
She talked of the changing trends in shoes over the years. "Comfort has gotten to be the key thing over cuteness, over fashion. People are more into happy feet. We've gone away from spike heels."
In a Mesabi Daily News story 18 years ago she had said, "A well-manufactured shoe is like a well-manufactured car. It's not what you see outside." In the recent Mesabi Tribune interview she described the keys to a successful business venture: "Sticking to it and focusing and not getting carried away. You can do all kinds of faddy stuff, but the core of your business has to be something solid, quality. They call these kind of stores 'sit and fit.' Our market area is wide, up to International Falls." Les Skoog said, "It's been a long haul and it's been good to us. We're happy we did it." The Bootery has one longtime employee, Lutasha Mott. And the Skoogs have their canine companions, a yorkie-chihuahua mix and a pomeranian-chihuahua mix, regulars at the store. "Some people come in just to see the dogs," Dee Skoog said.