Former customers remember the late owner of a downtown shoe shop as a man with a big heart and a lot of sole.
“He was always so happy-go-lucky,” Joel Johnson said Friday of Ralph Stout, the owner of Louis Shoe Shop, who died earlier this summer. “He was a great guy, and he seemed like he loved working there.”
Johnson, who needs custom-fitted shoes because of an orthopedic condition, was a regular customer of Stout’s Main Street store, and said he was sad to learn of his death.
“I’d go in about every six months, but one day, there his picture was on the back page of the paper,” he said. “We always joked with each other that we’d never retire, we’d probably just drop dead in our workplaces.”
Johnson said he wasn’t sure how long the independent businessman operated downtown, but said he started patronizing the shop in about 1994 and “the guy was already an institution at that point.”
Sadly, the commercial building is now for sale, but for Johnson, the spirit of entrepreneurship it represents is priceless.
Johnson City property tax records show the building that housed Louis Shoe Shop was built in the 1920s and last sold in 1983.
Just recently, the Johnson City Furniture Store next door to the shoe store was demolished by the city to repair the culvert that runs under the property and to build a parking lot.
The furniture property was purchased and knocked down as part of the city’s ongoing stormwater remediation project, although officials said it was not a top priority.
It’s unclear whether the municipality would be interested in buying the shoe store next door now that it’s available.
During its decades downtown, Stout weathered years of floods and even more dangerous situations.
In 2011, Stout was injured in a fight when a man visiting the store allegedly pulled furnishings from the walls and threw items at him over a reported dispute with his service.
In that altercation, Stout suffered a cut to his arm that required treatment by an emergency responder.
According to his obituary, Stout, a Butler native, died in May at Johnson City Medical Center.
He was the last of 11 children, and is survived by two daughters and a companion.