BELFAST—Every year, Colburn Shoe Store, on Main Street in Belfast, has a February sale on shoes. This year, owner Colby Horne, a fifth generation owner of the oldest shoe store in America, had a great idea.
After watching a segment on Channel 2 about a woman in Maine who sells cheesecake out of her garage bakery on the honor system, Horne took a look around at all the inventory that he knew wasn’t going to sell and decided to emulate the woman’s goodwill by giving shoes away on the honor system.
“After our sale, it’s always a pretty good barometer to me what’s going to sell and what’s going to sit in storage,” he said. “Instead of these shoes sitting on the shelf and not have a purpose, why don’t we give them a purpose? They’re no good sitting here—let’s get them out the door.”
On Tuesday, February 4, Horne made an announcement on Colburn’s Facebook page that they were going to set up a “Pay What You Can” rack in the basement as a donation station for men’s, women’s and children’s shoes with no expectation of payment.
“Leave nothing or leave $100, it’s up to you” read the post.
The post and the gesture have generated a flurry of media attention as well as a flood of positive feedback from the Belfast community.
“It’s been overwhelming, the amount of people who’ve texted me or stopped by,” he said. “I had an email from one of one of my old high school teachers and another teacher came by and gave me $50 to put toward it. It’s very heartwarming.”
The gesture comes straight from the heart.
“I’ve lived here 26 years of the 36 years I’ve been in Maine and I know there is a need for folks in the area to get something on their feet that’s better than they have, especially for kids,” he said. “Kids definitely need to be taken care of; they don’t have the ability to do it themselves. As business owners in the area, we all have extra stuff that’s just sitting in inventory. For the most part, you’ve already paid for it. This is not supposed to be a moneymaking venture—that’s what the rest of the store is for. This is just a small portion of the store to help people who needs help.”
Within the last 48 hours he’s had a number of customers come through and choose shoes from the rack. Of the 25 pairs of shoes that have been put out for donation, more than half the inventory has been taken.
“I haven’t counted the donation box,” he said. “That’s a big portion of it. I don’t want it to be embarrassing for anyone. I want a safe, no-judgment place for people to come if they need shoes for themselves or their kids. If you have a couple bucks, cool. If you don’t...that’s fine.”
Horne said this initiative is now going to be year-round.
“We’re going to be our best to sustain it and have shoes all year long,” he said. “The need for footwear is year-round and we’ll do the best with our vendors to keep some never-worn shoes on that rack.”
Horne said that some people have asked if they can donate some lightly-used shoes to the initiative, but he wants to keep the inventory brand new. “I want people to walk away with quality new shoes,” he said.
Those looking to donate lightly used shoes can seek out resources in Maine through Waldo County Technical Center’s Clothing Closet.
To stay tuned to Colburn Shoe Co. and the initiative visit their Facebook page.
Kay Stephens can be reached at email@example.com