Coffin Shoe Company of Knoxville celebrates its 100th anniversary

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The world has changed a lot over the past 100 years, but people haven’t stopped wearing shoes to protect their feet, feel comfortable and look fashionable.

And throughout that time, including the more recent era of self-service discount shoe retailers and online sites, the Coffin Shoe Company has remained in business, including the past 64 years in Bearden.

The company turns 100 this month, and third-generation family president Park Coffin said he still finds the job rewarding. “I love meeting people,” he said in his easily approachable manner. “We had good relationships with customers and formed friendships. We do a lot of recurring business.

Coffin, whose daughter, Hanlon Coffin, also helps the business with 32-year-old employee John Humphrey, said the store opened on Gay Street in 1922, near where the store stands today General Mast. He was started by both his grandfather Hector Coffin, who had previously worked at downtown Spence Shoes, and Grover Beeler.

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Coffin & Wynell's opened in 1975 in the Cedar Bluff mall.  It is a westward expansion of two stores, Coffin Shoe Co., of which James Coffin, left, is president, and Wynell's.  Mrs. Floyd R. (Wynell) Golden operates Wynell's and her son, Mel Golden, will manage the new store.  July 1975.

Beeler left the partnership during the Great Depression, but the store quickly became a part of downtown as familiar as someone’s favorite pair of loafers or flats. The store was also in another location on Gay Street before moving to Clinch Avenue near the Old Post Office/Custom House.

“We survived the Depression and World War II,” Park Coffin said proudly.

Her father, Jim Coffin, who is 95, served in the Korean War and started helping out the family business before later taking it over. The eldest Hector Coffin had died in 1967, working until the day before his death.

In 1958 the family opened a second store in the Bearden Mall in the 5900 block of Kingston Pike, but on the west side of White’s grocery store which is now occupied by Food City. In 1985, the business moved to the east side of the White store in the space formerly housing the Whiteway store.

Shoes on display at Coffin Shoe Co. in the Bearden neighborhood of Knoxville on Friday, April 1, 2022. The family business celebrates 100 years this year.

The downtown store, meanwhile, closed in 1963 after a new Coffin store opened in Fountain City run by Park Coffin’s uncle, Charles Coffin, an Annapolis graduate and veteran of the Marine.

In 1976 the family opened JP Coffin’s Clothing in Executive Park before later moving to Franklin Square. In 2019, the clothing side of the business was combined with the shoe store, and clothing is now sold inside the shoe store.

Stepping into the store in 2022 is almost like stepping back in time for those who remember the shoe stores of yore. Although the shoes are new and up to date, much of the store harkens back to the 1960s era and earlier with its vintage layout, neon sign, old fashioned foot pegs, metal Brannock appliances to measure foot size and personal attention from staff. .

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A neon sign hangs above the entrance to Coffin Shoe Co. in the Bearden neighborhood of Knoxville on Friday, April 1, 2022. The family business turns 100 this year.

Park Coffin said another aspect that makes his store unique is that he tries to offer a wide variety of shoes – both in numbers totaling nearly 30,000 pairs and in hard-to-find sizes and widths.

“If someone comes in and needs a size 15, or a narrow shoe or a wide shoe, I have both,” he said. “It’s one of the things that makes us different.”

He also tried to keep up with the times by putting brands and shoes online for customers to see. His finest pairs for men are Allen Edmonds, which he sells for $360.

Clients they’ve had over the years include former mayors Victor Ashe, Randy Tyree and elder John Duncan, as well as the likes of actresses Mary Costa, Patricia Neal and Polly Bergen, and former host from WBIR “Heartland Series”, Bill Landry.

Former Tennessee football coach and athletics manager Phillip Fulmer was also in the store, and the late football coach Johnny Majors and Lady Vols basketball coach Pat Summitt were also customers. Coffin said that when making the statue of Summitt, the artist used one of their shoes like the one the coach wore as a model.

A customer browses shoes for sale at Coffin Shoe Co. in the Bearden neighborhood of Knoxville on Friday, April 1, 2022. The family business celebrates 100 years this year.

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Hanlon Coffin, on the other hand, used her father’s business model and personal example in her life and enjoyed helping to carry on the family tradition. “It’s the only thing I did,” she said, adding that her dad would pick her up from school when she was 11 and help dust and vacuum the house. store. “I can’t imagine doing anything else. I’ve always been close to my dad and never thought of doing anything else.

Humphrey finds the job of waiting for customers enjoyable, too, adding, “You meet a lot of interesting people.”

Although Caskets says they’ve heard a few jokes over the years from people who think they should be in the funeral home business with their name, their business is still alive and kicking 100 years after it started. And that makes Park Coffin happy.

“Many generations of people have come through the door,” he said. “They’ve been awfully good to us all these years. Many people have trusted us to do it right.

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