These stylish dress shoes would have been perfect with a woman’s Sunday best in the early 1900s. In maroon kid leather with spool heels, pointed toes, and red ribbon laces, they were manufactured for the Frye Shoe Company of La Crosse and sold sometime between 1901 and 1913.
Company owner Frank M. Frye began selling shoes here in 1884 in partnership with Alexander Richardson. Richardson & Frye listed themselves as “Dealers in Boots and Shoes — Sign of the White Elephant.” In their store at 206 Main St. (422 Main St. after 1893), they sold men’s, women’s and children’s boots, shoes, slippers and overshoes.
Alexander Richardson owned a shoe factory in Janesville with his brother John that likely supplied much of their inventory. After 16 years, he left La Crosse, returning to Janesville and establishing another shoe factory there. Frank Frye is listed as sole manager of Frye Shoe Company after 1901.
Initially Frye’s business thrived. Frequent ads appeared in the German newspaper Nordstern and the La Crosse Tribune, highlighting sales and new shoe styles. By 1907, the 46-year-old bachelor was living at 531 Main St., close to his store.
But soon employees began to break away to form their own businesses. Frank Satek and the Hammer brothers opened a rival shoe store, “The Shoe Shop” at 115 S. Fourth St. in 1907; Ellis Langdon opened a shoe repair business on Jay Street in 1909.
Then “Adams, The Shoe Man,” a sales outlet at 115-117 S. Fourth St., began appearing in Frye Shoe Company ads, announcing markdowns. By September 1910, a reorganization sale was announced because of Frye’s need “to net enough money to meet some limited obligations that owing to the failure of a large Minneapolis firm must be met at once.” The company was said to be “caught with an overstock” with “demand for quick action.” The sale continued for months, with increasingly steep discounts. Ads cited Frank Frye’s reputation for quality footwear for 25 years.
Frye Shoe Company was caught in a financial tailspin from which it never recovered. By 1911, Frank Frye was living at the Y.M.C.A. In April 1912, the La Crosse Tribune announced a Frye “readjustment sale.” The Nordstern was blunter, saying the entire stock of the company would be sold by C. N. Harper Adjustment Company of Chicago. Scott-Rose Company bought what remained of Frye’s inventory and staged a huge two-day closeout in November 1913. Frye Shoe Company fixtures, shelving, safe and cash register were advertised for sale separately. By January 1914, Servis’ clothing and furnishing store had moved into the vacated Frye Shoe Store at 422 Main.
Despite his business failure in La Crosse, Frank Frye managed to resurrect his career. He moved to Madison and worked for Schumacher Shoe Store there until his retirement. He died in 1938 at age 77 and willed a sizeable estate to his niece.
Though his La Crosse business ended up being sold, Frank M. Frye was a respected shoe merchant here for 28 years. As part of his legacy, a pair of elegant women’s heels stamped “Frye Shoe Company, La Crosse, Wisconsin” remains in La Crosse County Historical Society collections. Visit www.lchshistory.org to learn more about these shoes and other items from La Crosse history.
Throwback from Tribune files: Life in the La Crosse area in the 1950s