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Top stories 2009: No. 6, Shoe opens museum

Red Wing Shoe Co.'s record-breaking boot heads for its new home on Main Street. -- photo by Jeff Marcus/contributor

Traffic stopped. Children stared in awe. People climbed to the upper floor of tall buildings to get a better look. Photographers snapped furiously.

On July 24, 2009, the world's biggest footwear was paraded through downtown Red Wing - via Potter, West Fourth, Bush and Main streets - to its new home at Red Wing Shoe Co.'s new flagship store.

The giant boot -- 16 feet high, 20 feet long, 7 feet wide -- now rests just inside the doorway of 315 Main St.

Workers created the huge boot in 2005 as a way to celebrate the company's 100th anniversary. It's a size 638 1/2-D classic work boot -- too big for the Statue of Liberty to wear, according to Red Wing Shoe Co. President Dave Murphy.

A person fitting this boot would stand 120 feet or 12 stories tall, experts calculate. Lady Liberty is 65 feet tall.

After being displayed locally, the 2,300-pound boot toured the country, visiting a lot of county fairs and other events, said Dori Mann, store manager.

Today, the World's Largest Boot reaches from the main floor of the store to the upper level, where the Red Wing Shoe Co. Museum is located.

The store opened Aug. 3; the museum saw its first visitors in September.

"It's been great," she said. The night of the Holiday Stroll was "huge," and both store and museum have had a very busy holiday season.

Officials anticipate as many as 48,000 visitors a year, but don't currently have a method in place to keep track of numbers. The museum is not staffed, Mann explained.

The company spent $1.25 million on the store, and government agencies contributed $300,000 to the project for an elevator, which makes all three levels easily accessible to everyone.

The self-guided, 4,600-square-foot museum is on the upper floor, Mann said. It has everything from vintage shoes/boots to original Shoe advertisements created by Norman Rockwell. Visitors can watch a video showing how shoes are made.

Children are especially welcome at the museum, Mann said. In the kid-friendly play area, youngsters can try on costumes representing a variety of professions, from cooks to carpenters, and then put on shoes to meet the special needs of those workers.

Charles H. Beckman started the Shoe in 1857, when people still rode horses to work. The first boot sold for $1.75. The company has been on Main Street since 1905.

The main floor is the primary shoe store, a 13,200-square-foot space with zones dedicated to each of the company's footwear brands. The lower level is a shoe outlet center with more than 10,000 pairs of shoes available at 30 to 70 percent off the original price.

Admission to the museum is free. Hours are 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday; 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. For more information, including directions, go to the company Web site at www.redwingshoes.com.

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