The words “family” and “tradition” are no stranger to Manhattan and certainly not to the Olson family, who has made its home in the heart of Aggieville for more than 100 years.
Olson’s Foot Health and Shoe Service — located at 1214-B Moro St. — adds to the family tradition that is Aggieville as it is the second-oldest business in the six square blocks, and “one of the oldest, continuous family businesses in Manhattan,” according to Dan Walter, Aggieville historian.
“To be in the over-100-years category is really rare,” Walter said. “To be in the same type of business for that long and have it passed down through the family, that’s pretty rare in Aggieville particularly, but also in Manhattan as a whole.”
This rarity is explained by the simple fact that “people still wear shoes,” according to Eddie Olson Sr., who took over the shop in 1964 and became a fourth-generation owner of Olson’s Shoe.
According to Walter, the Olson family members do what they promise to do, and they do it well, which is why they are able to maintain their foothold in the ever-changing Aggieville.
They provide shoe repair and orthopedic work, as well as sell many brands of shoes, including Birkenstocks, P.W. Minor and Kumfs, according to the shop’s website.
Olson Sr. ran the shop from 1964-84 but has been repairing shoes most of his life, he said.
“Ever since I was 7 or 8 years old, I’ve repaired shoes, except for a short time when I got out of high school,” Olson Sr. said. “Everyone back in that day either got drafted or went into one of the other services, so I decided to go into the Air Force.”
While in the Air Force, Olson Sr. tied the knot with Dian in 1962, he said.
The pair had not always planned to come back to Manhattan and take over the shop, but they did so to help out the family.
“My dream was to go to California and work in one of the big aircraft companies like McDonnell Douglas, but my grandmother said I had to come back to fix shoes and so I did,” Olson Sr. said. “I’ve been here ever since.”
Dian said she was a stay-at-home mom until one day she was talked into “running errands” for the shop.
“I’ve been working here probably 30 years,” Dian said. “I’ve learned most of everything I do from Eddie. He taught me to sew, how to keep the book or wait on the counter.”
Like the shop, the craft has been passed down the generations, according to Olson Sr., who acquired some of his “foot health and shoe service” knowledge from his grandfather Samual.
“I knew a lot about people’s feet, arches, knees, from him,” Olson Sr. said. “I thought I knew everything. I was 43 when I decided I didn’t know nothing, so I went to school in Ball State University, in Indiana, to get a certificate in pedorthics.”
A pedorthist is a healthcare professional with specific training in footwear, including shoes, shoe modifications and other pedorthic devices, to solve problems in or related to the foot and lower limbs, according to the Pedorthic Footcare Association.
Currently, Olson Sr.’s son Edwin Olson Jr. does the shoe repair work, making him the fifth generation to work in the shop.
“We’ve got pictures of (Edwin) in the shop when he was five years old hammering nails in a heel, putting a heel on a shoe,” Dian said. “He was destined, I think.”
Like his dad, Olson Jr. had not planned on making a career out of shoe repair but now continues the family tradition.
“I’m getting tired,” Olson Jr. said. “It’s getting a little harder every day to get up and come to work, but I stick around.”
Aside from the “foot health” aspect of the job, the family enjoys connecting with the customers.
“I like being here in Aggieville,” Dian said. “It’s fun talking to young people. I think it keeps you young. I really do.”
Olson Sr. said he hopes that the store will continue to be the right fit for the Manhattan community for many years to come.
“My hope for the store is that it will be here for another 100 years,” Olson Sr. said. “I think there’s a possibility for that. As long as Manhattan keeps growing, people still have feet and they wear shoes, there will still be Olson’s.”