It might be part of a dying breed, but Wichita's oldest shoe store appears to be doing quite well, thank you.
"We're healthy, we're successful, I think," said Cindy Warren, owner of Heads Village Shoe Store at Douglas and Oliver.
That seemed borne out by the bustling scene inside the store on Monday afternoon, when customers ranging from toddlers to octogenarians were being fitted for footwear.
Heads is celebrating its 100th anniversary this month, which makes it one of the city's oldest retail businesses of any kind.
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What also makes Heads unusual is that it's an independent, family-owned shoe store.
Andy Warren, Cindy's son and the store's president, said one out of every nine pairs of shoes in the United States is sold by Payless ShoeSource stores. Wal-Mart and other huge chains grab most of the rest of the market share.
Heads has survived thanks to a combination of tradition and innovation, the Warrens say.
Heads Shoe Store opened downtown in 1910. It changed hands and locations a couple of times before Cindy Warren bought it in 1998. It's now in the Lincoln Heights Village Shopping Center.
"We have customers who are 90 years old who come in and say, 'My mom bought shoes at Heads when I was a kid. I've always shopped here. I wouldn't know where else to shop,' " Cindy Warren said.
The Warrens have tried to keep an old-school approach to business. Customers are greeted at the door, often by their first names, and helped to their cars with an umbrella if it's raining. The store will deliver shoes to a customer's home.
Although customers are free to shop on their own, the Warrens prefer to sit them down, measure their feet, ask about any foot issues they might have and what they're looking for in a shoe, and then bring them a half-dozen pairs to choose from for starters.
"My personal record is 42," Cindy Warren said of the number of pairs one customer tried on.
The Warrens have renovated and later expanded the store. Cindy Warren became a certified pedorthist, which is someone trained in using footwear and orthotic devices to help fit people with foot problems.
Helped by Andy Warren, who has an MBA from Wichita State, the store specializes in popular but hard-to-find brands, along with shoes in large and small sizes and widths.
Among the most popular brands are SAS, which Cindy described as a "made-in-the-USA comfort shoe," and Munro, a line of dressy casual shoes for women.
Just this week, another son, Russell, joined the business as its operations manager. One of his jobs will be giving the store a Web presence.
Cindy Warren also owns the Fair Village Shoe Store at 2407 W. 13th St., the New Balance shoe store at 1720 N. Webb, and the Little Feet Boutique children's shoe store adjoining Heads, so there's plenty to keep the three Warrens busy.
This month, most of the focus will be on Heads. To help celebrate its centennial, the store is drawing names to give away 100 pairs of shoes. This weekend, the store will host an SAS trunk show, which Andy called "the mother of all trunk shows."
"Once somebody is an SAS customer, they're an SAS customer for life," Cindy said.
The Warrens try to make them Heads customers for life, as well. Cindy Warren said the process of selling shoes can be an intimate one, as customers sometimes confide the occasion — happy or sad — for which they are buying a new pair.
"I've sat there and cried with customers," she said.