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Joe Murray

Murray's Shoes owner Joe Murray is shown fitting a customer for new shoes in this 2003 photo. The store, which dates to 1875, will close in June. 

BLOOMINGTON — Joe Murray was born to sell shoes.

“I tell people that my mother had me on the fitting stool,” he said. “I slipped off and went to work.”

Fortunately, Murray always had a place to work. He began working in sixth grade for his father, Del, at Murray’s Shoes. Then, like his father and his grandfather, he took over the store that started in 1875.

The tradition will come to an end when the store, 1701 E. Empire St., closes June 23.

“It’s a combination of two things,” he told The Pantagraph. “I’m 75 and I’m starting to have aches and pains that come with being 75. The other thing is that the internet has absolutely killed the business. To put a store out of business, what you have to do is to take 20 percent of their business away. And that’s the big problem.”

Murray said the biggest challenge of his 52-year career is competing against retail chains that use the web as a marketing tool.

“We had catalogs and things of that nature come along in the '50s, '60s and '70s and that was a challenge, but we survived through all of that,” he said. “But the internet really changed things for brick-and-mortar stores like ours. We’re getting manufacturers who are directly competing with us. They want us to buy wholesale and sell for retail and so they make a double margin when they sell it at retail.

“But what we are seeing with the internet now and all of these stores closing, I think it’s just the tip of the iceberg.”

The store's roots are traced to Adam Murray, who migrated from Ohio to LeRoy in 1875. He opened a pharmacy where he also offered dry goods, millinery and shoes. His son, Saint Elmo, took over the store after his father’s death in 1901. In 1912, he sold the store and opened the first full-line shoe store in Decatur.

Son Del took over in 1948 and brought Joe into the family-operated business. Murray’s Shoes, with Joe then running the business, was one of the original tenants in Eastland Mall in 1967, and moved to East Empire in 1998.

Murray went to school to become a certified pedorthist, a professional who has specialized training to modify footwear and employ supportive devices to address conditions which affect the feet and lower limbs. It made him essentially a pharmacist of foot wear, and he maintained contact with local doctors and podiatrists.

Now, he and three other employees will say goodbye with an extended going-out-of-business sale.

“We made a lot of friends in this business, both in and out of the shop,” he said.

In retirement, Murray plans to travel some, and spend time with his daughter and two grandsons.

“At one time, our family had 12 stores throughout Central Illinois, but I always loved Bloomington,” he said. “It’s a super town. I always said it was the golden town and I am going to miss having the store.”

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Contact Kevin Barlow at (309) 820-3238. Follow him on Twitter: @pg_barlow

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