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Bootery closing at Boulevard Mall

A beloved children’s shoe store and original tenant of the Boulevard Mall announced it is closing, and parents responded with a resounding chorus of ‘oh no’s.’

Forty years ago, it was Ginny Everett’s children who sat next to her on the bench at Boulevard Mall Bootery having their feet carefully sized and measured. Thursday morning, it was her 3-year-old grandson Lucas being meticulously fitted for shoes.

A filing cabinet next to the register contained an index card with Lucas’s birthdate and ever-growing shoe size, just as it had held cards for her children years before. Co-owner Joe Toscano handed her a handwritten receipt and Lucas’s new shoes, thanked her by name and said goodbye.

It would be the last time Everett would live out that years-old family tradition. The Bootery will soon cater to its last pairs of tiny feet and close its doors forever.

“They’ve got the best fit; the friendliest, most competent people working here,” said Everett, of Williamsville. “I don’t know what we’re going to do.”

Over the years, the retailer lost sales to big box stores, then to Internet sales. When Toscano took over the store from his dad in 1990, it employed nine full-time workers and five part-time ones. Today, it employs just five in total. The independent retailer has also become a victim of ‘showrooming’ – in which customers go to the store to try on shoes and have them fitted, then buy them online for a lower price.

With his co-owner facing health problems and unable to help run the store, Toscano decided it was simply time to close the doors.

“We tried our hardest,” he said. “There’s no one to blame. It’s just time.”

No closing date has been set.

Customers like Everett swarmed the store Thursday, some of them in tears after receiving flyers for a going-out-of-business sale mailed to their homes.

The mall’s management is just as sad to see them go.

“Many of us, myself included, have fond memories of being fitted for our first shoes at the Bootery on the iconic red fire engine,” said Betsey Bonvissuto, the mall’s marketing director.

The Bootery was an original tenant of the mall when it first opened in 1962. It was known for its doting customer service and thorough inventory. The store sold everything from a baby’s first crib shoe – something many customers later had bronzed – to big kids’ sneakers and galoshes. It carried every size, every half size, and half a dozen different widths in each.

Though Toscano is sad to see the end of the Bootery era, he’s trying to stay upbeat and hoping for strong end-of-business sales.

“There have been a lot of tears, a lot of hugs,” he said. “But you just have to focus on all the wonderful years our customers gave us. I know what we did made a difference in people’s lives. That helps.”