In the eons since, though, increased competition in the kid shoe market has almost made Stride Rite shoes and store somewhat of a novelty. Indeed, even the pair of shoes we bought for The Boy this past August were the Saucony brand, despite being purchased at what was our nearest Stride Rite store.
And so it was that the kids found themselves in need of new shoes—and we found ourselves in possession of both gift cards and coupons—so we headed to the nearest Stride Rite store at North Star Mall, where we'd been purchasing our Stride Rite shoes since The Boy got his first pair roughly four years ago.
What should have been a quick morning outing, however, turned into an all-day ordeal.
Because life with MS impacts one's mobility to an extraordinary extent, we structured everything about the trip right down to the parking space. A non-handicapped one when we can help it, for we know there are others with equal or greater than need.
We rolled out from our home in the burbs, timing our arrival to the mall at just past ten o'clock. We arrived, found optimal parking, and wrangled the kids and ourselves into the mall, which was still waking from its evening slumber. The Stride Rite store, however, was shuttered, with all signage and indeed signs of having once housed a whole lot of children's shoes.
The better part of the next hour was spent, attempting to determine what had happened to the store: Did they move elsewhere in the mall? Did they move to a different shopping area, in a trendier part of the city? Was the location on the far side of town (La Cantera) still open?
Mall directories still indicated Stride Rite was still in its former location. Google thought the same. Mall security was equally clueless. Only the Stride Rite website indicated what had happened to the store,basically showing it no longer existed. The nearest one was in the outlet stores in San Marcos—forty miles in the opposite direction of our home, nearer to Austin than San Antonio.
By this point, it was getting late, and both toddlers were getting hungry and correspondingly cranky. The plan was modified, then, to rocket us to San Marcos for shoes, pitstop at Jason's Deli in New Braunfels on the way home, and then finally home four or five hours after we had left for what should haven been a 90-minute tops outing.
Fortunately, traffic was light on the way to the Tanger Outlets, but inside the Stride Rite store, it was pretty heavy. And only one person working, as had frequently been the case at the Northstar store (or what had been the Northstar store), which did complicate things, though no more than the previous complications experienced thus far.
Service, however, was still excellent, albeit delayed, given the volume of customers who were not only regulars to the outlets but also those redirected from San Antonio. We commisserated with many who had also gone to Northstar and were surprised to see Stride Rite was no longer housed in said mall—or San Antonio, for that matter.
We also got the scoop on what had happened: Stride Rite had been sold (albeit in 2012) to Wolverine, a company specializing in work boots, although they also own some other brands. Those folks at Corporate were apparently not too happy about the numbers the two San Antonio stores had been producing, so they shut those stores down, leaving nearly all of the entirety of south Texas without a store specializing in the fitting and selling of children's shoes. Rumor had it, too, that if numbers weren't good in San Marcos, they, too, would be shut down. (One woman who was lost from the Northstar location's closing had been with the company for more than two decades; no algorithm can duplicate that level of experience.)
In the hustle of so many customers and so few associates to assist, one pair of shoes did get left behind. It took a series of phone calls and an hour or two of waiting, but the shoes were located and shipped to us the next day. All said, this was the most annoyingly, inconvenient and outright pain in the rumpus shopping experience in my near-four-and-a-half decades on Earth.
I get it that businesses need to watch their numbers and profit margins, but the disturbing trend indicates that businesses in nearly every market are doing so at the expense of their customers. Without customers, there are no sales (let alone profits) to report to shareholders. Without properly managed and staffed stores, there are no customers.
The kids are set on their shoes for the next few months, though, so we'll need not brave the outlets for some time. When that time does come, though, we will be checking to ensure that Stride Rite is still open for business. It may seem a trivial inconvenience to have to travel from one location to another, but when young children get thrown in—and an autoimmune disease as dastardly as multiple sclerosis—such an outing becomes an outlandish taxation on a family, on a customer base. If Wolverine's intent is to steer more customers to the Stride Rite website, they are certainly succeeding. They are also succeeding in alienating a customer base that either may not care to shop online or would prefer the human expertise generally available at your Stride Rite store.