An Old ‘Sole’

Published 10:23 am Friday, July 30, 2010

In 2006, the historical shoe store, Unger’s, celebrated 60 years of business in Ironton.

The beloved family-owned store will be gearing up for its 75th anniversary, but not in 2021, as simple mathematics would suggest.

Instead, Unger’s could be celebrating as soon 2012.

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“For years we’ve always said, ‘since 1946’,” said Joe Unger.

Joe, owner of the shoe store his father Gene Unger built, recently discovered documents that prove the shop to be at least nine years older than originally thought.

“We discovered all these old documents from the 1930s,” said Unger. “What we’ve been able to discern is that Dad started the business in 1937.”

Unger said that after the death of his mother, Bonnie Unger, he started going through old boxes.

In these boxes, Unger said he found old ledger books and invoices dating back to as early as 1937. The ledgers showed every sale made and the price. There were inventory lists and even some shoe ration stamps.

“There’s some really neat documents,” said Unger.

Unger also has a letter that his father wrote to purchase a fluoroscope. A fluoroscope was a type of x-ray device that was used in the shoe fitting process.

There was also a letter from the company that denied him the fluoroscope because he did not have enough credit with that company.

There was also old stationary with Gene Unger’s letterhead. The letterhead said “Gene Unger’s Shoe Department at Gabler’s Department Store.”

“We were all aware that Dad worked at Gabler’s,” said Unger. “We never questioned the origins.”

The genesis of Unger’s was indeed in Gabler’s Department Store. Gene Unger actually leased the space in Gabler’s for his shoe business.

Unger said that his father ran his shoe department at Gabler’s until he enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1942 just after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

“I have no idea what happened to the shoe store when he was in the war,” Unger said.

In 1944 Gene was honorably discharged due to illness and returned to Gabler’s.

On Feb. 18, 1946, Gene opened his own store, Unger’s Shoes. He was the first tenant of the first building to be built in Ironton after World War II.

The store has remained at 304 S. Third St. and is still thriving.

Remnants from the store’s humble beginnings can still be seen.

When Gabler’s closed, Gene bought the chairs from the shoe department. The 1930s chairs are still being used in Unger’s today.

Having missed their 70th anniversary, Joe Unger said that they would celebrate the 75th anniversary in August 2012.