So long, Thom.
After 75 years of hawking footwear to the masses, Thom McAn, the self-described "America's Shoe Store," is walking out of the nation's malls.With imports and trendier outlets tearing a hole in sales, parent company Melville Corp. announced last week that it will close some Thom McAn outlets and rename the remaining stores Footaction. The changes should be in place by mid-1997, according to the company.
Founded in 1922 as a way to sell shoes at the then-moderate price of $3, Worcester-based Thom McAn has been synonymous with shoes ever since.
"They, along with Kinney Shoes, led the way when they became a national presence in the '60s and into the '70s as malls proliferated," said Peter T. Mangione, president of Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America.
Recent years, however, have not been so kind. According to industry figures, the number of Thom McAn outlets has fallen from 800 four years ago to fewer than 300 today.
Last year, Thom McAn made a high-profile attempt to lure customers back with TV and print campaigns designed to reshape the chain's image. Some ads apologized for offering "outdated" shoe styles while others featured a duck imploring a fictional Thom McAn, to "Change the shoes, Thom."
Melville said its restructuring plan includes converting as many as 100 out of 270 Thom McAn shops into Footaction stores.
"Thom McAn is a fading star. Melville rightfully felt it would be better to go with its `diamond' properties," Mangione said.
For some, though, the changes still mark the end of an era and reflect changes in the retail business.
At the Cambridgeside Galleria, a mall just across the Charles River from Boston, few customers appeared concerned that the familiar red Thom McAn sign will dis-ap-pear.
"There are other stores around that are just more trendy," said shopper Paul Stonkus. "The current image is what people look for. Some of the older stores just aren't going to make it."
For the record, there never really was a Thom McAn. It was a name created by two shoe industry pioneers, J.F. McElwain and Frank Melville.
"It was a figment of the imagination of a couple of Scotch-Americans. Notice that it is spelled `Thom,"' said Fred Bloom, a former vice president of the Two/Ten International Footwear Foundation in Watertown. "They wanted something Scotch in it."