Simpson Shoes closes its doors in Lambton after three generations and more than 90 years

simpson shoes closes its doors in lambton after three generations and more than 90 years

Simpson Shoes was established in Newcastle's Lambton more than 90 years ago.  (ABC Newcastle: Keely Johnson)

In 1931, when Craig Simpson's grandfather opened his boot-making business in suburban Newcastle, he may not have expected it to continue for almost a century.

Simpson Shoes in Lambton closed its doors for the last time earlier this month, ending a legacy that spanned more than 90 years and three generations.

Its final owner, Craig, said sadly he doesn't see a future in the shoe business anymore as online shopping and the creation of large shopping centres have "changed" the retail sector.

Mr Simpson has fond memories of helping out his father and grandfather in the shop as a teenager.

He would watch his grandfather Stephen tinker for hours in the back of the shop repairing and making shoes for his customers.

"You don't see it done like that anymore," Mr Simpson said.

His grandfather was a bootmaker, a trade that is hard to come by these days.

Mr Simpson said he loved to watch his grandfather create shoes from scratch, many of which ended up on his own feet.

"He never wore a pair of shoes he didn't make," he said.

Simpson Shoes began in 1931 after Stephen completed his boot-making apprenticeship.

"He rented out a little shed in the backyard of the Northumberland Hotel, the pub around the corner from where the shop is now 93 years later," Mr Simpson said.

Stephen bought and moved to the shopfront at 100 Elder Street in April 1934, where it remained until its recent closure.

A family business 

Stephen Simpson worked in the shop repairing shoes for more than 70 years, until he was in his late 80s.

His son, Kevin Simpson, also followed in his footsteps.

"Dad also did his trade as a shoe repairer," Mr Simpson said.

"He could see the sale of new shoes was worth getting into.

"So he ran the shop selling new [mass-produced] shoes, and Pop kept doing the repairs."

Mr Simpson was about 16 years of age when he started working part-time at the shop and took over the business in his early 30s.

Now, after 47 years working at the shop, he has decided to retire.

"It is sad, but it's a personal decision. It's just time to get out and enjoy doing other things," he said.

Mr Simpson said independently-owned shoe shops have become a rarity.

"Twenty years ago there used to be a shoe store in nearly every suburb in Newcastle," he said.

"There's very few of us left now."

In a region with more than 500,000 residents, just four independently-owned shoe shops remain across Newcastle and Lake Macquarie.

Impact of online shopping 

Mr Simpson said the biggest impact on the business was the creation of online shopping.

"We would have people come in and try on a shoe, just to find the right size, and leave," he said.

"You would know they were off to buy it online and save, say, $20.

"I know everyone is paying more for things at the moment and they want to save where they can … but people don't realise how that extra money could help a small business."

The onset of large shopping centres also impacted the business.

"The big, major shopping malls have sprouted up all over the city and all the chain stores are, of course, in those centres," he said.

"People go there because they can get everything they want all in the same place."

Mr Simpson said chain stores often could not offer the same service as experienced family businesses could.

"When you've seen how shoes are made and repaired you know the ins and outs of shoes and footwear. So you know exactly how they fit," he said.

"You can pass that experience on to the customers when you're selling the product."

One customer, Elaine, had shopped at the store across the three generations of ownership.

Mr Simpson recalls serving older customers from their cars if they couldn't come into the shop.

"We were happy to do that. That is the service you just can't get at chain stores," he said.

"And that's what I've loved — helping people and helping them fix their foot problems."

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