Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Buster Brown Shoes Closes in Forest Hills - The End of An Era

UPDATE: As of July 2010, the famed Buster Brown Shoes sign has been removed, restored, and displayed in an Austin St office, with our intervention.

We just learned that on May 11, 2010 at 11 AM at Buster Brown Shoes/Austin Shoes, 71-24 Austin St, Forest Hills, NY, there will be a bankruptcy auction by Richard B. Maltz of David R. Maltz & Co., Inc. The auction will feature: Infant/children shoes and sneakers (Buster Brown Brand), sandles, handbags/purses, rain coats, chairs, stools, display, etc.

In April 2010, Queens residents were disheartened to see one of the few remaining mom & pop shops in Forest Hills at 71-24 Austin St, shut its doors, and a For Rent sign being tacked into the classic Buster Brown Shoes sign. It was one of the oldest shops in existence in Forest Hills, being that it opened in the late 1940s, and is where generations have memories of their earliest shoe purchases. Buster Brown sold infant and children shoes, parochial shoes, orthopedic shoes, and even shoes for adults in midst of the majority of younger age shoes. Operator Lenny inherited the shop from his father. He recently retired, and although locals were hoping that he would be successful in finding another operator to carry on the tradition, he gave up hope. The sign's famed caricature was based on the Buster Brown and Tige comic strip characters.  

The role of Rego-Forest Preservation Council will be to ensure that the historic sign and any other vintage possessions within the shop will be rescued and not discarded, and a suitable home be found, so it can one day be on exhibit for all to see. That is our first priority.

Our flickr photoset, featuring close-ups of the historic signage: 
1950s TV commercial featuring a Buster Brown Shoes jingle: 

General history & timeline of Buster Brown Shoes (chain), according to Brown Shoe Co:

In 1878, a young man named George Warren Brown believed St. Louis could become a manufacturing center for the shoe industry. He invested his life savings and founded his own company to manufacture and sell shoes even though most shoe companies were located in the Northeast. Brown thought he could change the face of the industry and he was right - his company thrived. Today, Brown Shoe is a leading $2.4 billion consumer-driven footwear company with global, integrated operations, delighting consumers with a portfolio of compelling brands.

Many people mistakenly think Brown Shoe was named after the much-loved Buster Brown character. In fact, our Buster Brown shoe brand came 25 years later.
In 1904 at the "Meet Me In St. Louis" World's Fair, a young Brown Shoe executive met Buster Brown's creator, cartoonist Richard F. Outcault, and purchased the name from him. At the time, Buster Brown was a mischievous cartoon character, who, together with his dog Tige and sister Mary Jane, delighted children of all ages.

Brown Shoe made marketing history when it sent on the road a series of actors, each dressed as Buster and accompanied by a dog (Tige). They toured the entire country selling Buster Brown shoes as they performed in theaters, department stores and shoe stores. In those days, such a touring show generally brought out the whole town.


Bryan, Brown & Company formed in St. Louis by George Warren Brown and his partners Alvin Bryan and Jerome Desnoyers.


Company name changed to Brown Shoe Company.


Rights to Buster Brown name purchased; Buster Brown brand introduced to public at the St. Louis World's Fair.


Succession of actors, dressed like Buster Brown and accompanied by dogs, toured the country (1904-1930), playing to audiences in rented theaters, department stores and shoe stores.


Brown Shoe Company listed on the New York Stock Exchange under stock ticker symbol BWS.


George Warren Brown School of Social Work endowed at Washington University in St. Louis by G.W. Brown's widow.


Naturalizer brand created.


Connie brand created.


LifeStride brand created.


Smilin' Ed McConnell and his Buster Brown Gang debuted on the West Coast NBC radio network. In 1951, Smilin' Ed moved to television, where his show ran until 1954.


Brown Shoe Company acquired Wohl Shoe Company, operator of 350 specialty stores and 800 shoe departments for many major department stores.


Brown Shoe Company moved headquarters from 1600 Washington Avenue to Clayton, MO.


Naturalizer Shoe Store, the first of several hundred stores to carry Naturalizer shoes, opened in Jamaica, NY. Regal Shoe Shops, with 110 locations, acquired by Brown Shoe.


Cloth World, Eagle Rubber, Hedstrom, BottomHalf and Meis Department Stores bought by Brown Shoe. Juvenile and Recreational Products Companies Division formed.


36-store Famous Footwear chain acquired.


Brown Group International established.


Brown Group begins decade-long strategic repositioning — non-footwear businesses sold, all domestic manufacturing plants closed.


Acquisition of Pagoda Trading Company completed.

Brown signs long-term license for Dr. Scholl's brand.


Company changes its name back to Brown Shoe Company.


Buster Brown & Co. is established as the Kids' Division of Brown Shoe.


Naturalizer revitalizes its image. New product styling is geared to a younger, more fashion-conscious woman. And naturalizer.com launches.


Brown Shoe acquires 26 store Mil-Mar chain and folds it into Famous Footwear.


Naturalizer named "Brand of The Year" by Footwear News.


Naturalizer celebrates 75 years.
Carlos by Carlos Santana brand launches.


Brown Shoe awarded “Company of the Year
by Footwear News.


Buster Brown celebrates 100 years.


Brown Shoe acquires Bennett Footwear Group, LLC (BFG). Adds Franco Sarto, Via Spiga, and
other brands.


Naturalizer launches Naturalizer Signature luxury women’s shoes, available online and in select store locations.
Bennett Footwear Group integrated into Brown New York.


Brown Shoe announced plans to open Naturalizer and Via Spiga stores in China.
Brown Shoe announced an agreement with Sam and Libby Edelman to invest in Edelman Shoe, Inc.


Brown Shoe launched celebrity licensed footwear brands for: country music superstar Reba McEntire (Reba), music and entertainment superstar Fergie, and style and beauty expert Gretta Monahan (Gretta).
Brown Shoe announced plans to create interconnected footwear company in St. Louis headquarters.


  1. its sad to see shoe stores go where you actually get service and care.. now all we have left are impersonal figure it out for yourself stores with no character or charm and poor quality shoeware to boot. ( no pun intended).

  2. I will miss Lenny who really helped us out when our daughter first got shoes to fit with her braces. He knew all about SMOs and AFOs and I can't think of any other place to go with a salesperson who is not only personable, but knowledgeable about orthopedic shoes.

  3. My earliest memories of the Buster Brown store on Austin Street date back to the late 1940's. I remember my mother taking me there for shoes because she felt that they had quality shoes and were expert fitters.

    I remember that they had a machine that when I put the new shoes on the salesman and my mother could look in and see how much room there was between my feet and the tips of the shoes. It was a great selling tool.

    Those were the days when the merchant knew their customers by name and vice versa. Buster Brown had quite a run.... Allan Wachtel

  4. Wow...stopped shopping here years ago because I moved (and got older :) but Buster Brown was an Austin Street institution....a trip back to Forest Hills won't be the same knowing it's no longer there. As for Lenny....thanks for keeping my feet comfy from my first pair of shoes till age 12 :)

  5. Hello! Is there a way I can get in contact with someone at the Rego-Forest Preservation Council? This was my fathers store and I would LOVE to obtain the sign that was preserved and keep it's forever home within our family!

    1. Thank you for getting in touch. It's a pleasure to meet you! Can you please email me? mperlman@queensledger.com

    2. Done and Done! Looking forward to connecting! THANK YOU!