Recently we have been exploring county landmarks with the use of oral histories in the collections of the Sherburne History Center. Greupner Shoes developed into a business institution in Elk River. Established in the 1880s, and remaining in the city for more than eighty years, the small shop that served Elk River and Sherburne County became a significant icon in the county history. William Greupner remembers the store and his father:
|Greupner's Shoe Shop before the 1895 fire|
From the collections of SHC
My dad, Herman Greupner, came to Elk River from Germany in 1883. He had two sisters and a brother in Germany. He was in the army over there. He was in the army for three years. And then he was in the reserve. He really shouldn’t have left, I guess, because in the reserve you aren’t supposed to leave the country. He did anyhow because he thought, he told us so many times, he thought silver dollars were hanging from the trees. But he found out different when he got here.
He spent one year in St. Paul, [then] in Eau Claire and then from there he came up to Elk River because it was mostly on account of he made boots for the fellows that worked on the river. They [the boots] were called parks or cults. He had all the patterns for these men and he make ready-made shoes for them. They sold, as I recollect, or as my dad told me, he made these boots for around $6.50 or $7 a pair, which compares today with would cost probably $150. The men worked seven days a week. They worked every day and Sunday. [They received] kind of top pay then.
Well, my father was in Elk River. He was single for eight years before he met my mother. And, my father was sixteen years older than my mother, but they still reared nine children. One child died in infancy. But there were eight of us that lived. We all we of age before our parents passed away.
When [my father] was fourteen years old he started training in shoe repairing and making new shoes. So then when my brother Fred, who was six years older than I was, when we got old enough, we helped. I started helping in the store when I was about eleven or twelve years old.
My father had several fires [at the store]. The first one in the town, which was 1898, the whole town burned out. He had insurance all those years, but this particular time he shorted some lamps and so he didn’t collect a cent. But he inherited $300 from his folks in Germany. That’s what really saved him, so he could start up again in business. Then, again, we had a big fire in 1910, which we lost everything. Then we started over again.
In 1910 we had about $5000 inventory, and his insurance was $2,500. So, he paid his debts and started over again from scratch. There is where I spent fifty years of my time, from 1910 on. My brother and I, our father taught us shoe repairing. We [were doing] shoe repairing, and we also had, of course, shoes and men’s sport clothing. And so, we kept on until my brother passed away in ’66. My wife and I, we kept on for a couple more years. Then, I became 65 and that’s when we sold out.