Shoe Business a Comfortable Fit for Stan Sajdak

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel — November 7, 2006 editions By Amy Rabideau Silvers

Stan Sajdak believed in selling the right shoe for the right foot. “It doesn’t matter how good, how fancy, how expensive your shoes are,” declared Sajdak, founder of Stan’s Bootery. “If they don‟t fit right, they’re garbage. And a good 70 percent of the people who buy shoes aren’t fitted right.”

A reporter on a feature interview once became Exhibit A to prove Sajdak’s point. “Show me your foot,” Sajdak directed. “Either one. Take off the shoe first. Now the sock. Go ahead. You got a bad callous here. At maybe 50 or 60, you’ll have a full-blown bunion,” he said, adding some doctors would say the foot problem was inherited.

My dad would say, “Anybody can sell a pair of shoes, but you need to make a friend,” said son Jim Sajdak, now president of the family business. “He got to know his customers and their families. To this day, we have multiple generations buying their shoes from us.”

Stanley J. Sajdak died of congestive heart failure Thursday, November 2nd at Milwaukee Catholic Home, where he lived for six years. He was 87. Sajdak earlier lived with his wife, Emerence, known as Em, in Greendale.

He grew up in the home at 1017-19 Brady Street, right above the shoe store run by his father, Michael Sajdak.

“My grandfather had a shoe store – Sajdak’s Shoe Store,” Jim said. “The doorbell would ring downstairs and his father would run downstairs and take care of a customer. My dad worked with my grandfather through high school, and then the war came.”

In 1937, Sajdak graduated from Marquette University High School and then took business courses at Marquette University for a couple of years. He enlisted with the Army Air Corps, training as a radio operator with a photo reconnaissance group based in England.

He first returned to his dad’s business. Mutual friends introduced him to a young woman – also from a Polish family and an entrepreneur with her own business. The former Emerence (Polczynski) Sajdak then ran an office support firm out of the old Plankinton Arcade, handling typing, mimeograph and other office work for clients.

Together they began Stan’s Bootery in 1950. He was the public face of the business. She was the busy silent partner, handling the books and other work.

“People laughed at him for moving out to the edge of town,” Jim said. “That store was at 27th and Oklahoma.” The decision proved to be a good one.

“It was the budding south side – all the guys coming back from the service, all those growing families,” he said. “He was there before Southgate.”

In 1972, Jim joined the business. They began stores in Greenfield and Brookfield. The store on S. 27th Street remained open until 2000, “so he had a nice 50-year run there,” said Jim. Other stores include one in Glendale and two New Balance athletic shoe stores.

“We called it Stan’s Bootery until 2000,” he said. “Now it’s Stan’s with the tag line, “Fit For Your Feet.”

A daughter, Suzanne Sakwinski, serves in administrative roles with the firm. Grandchildren work part-time.

The specialty at Stan’s remains sizes for hard-to-fit feet, though plenty of average feet walk through the door, too. Women’s sizes range to size 13 and from AAA to EEE. Men’s range to size 18, from AA to 6E.

In the store or elsewhere, Sajdak remembered people’s names – and their foot sizes.

“He was entertaining. He had charm. He had wit,” Jim said. “He could handle a store full of people like no one I know – it was like he was juggling plates. His business premise was to fit people in quality shoes. There were a lot of lines of shoes he wouldn’t carry because they weren’t quality.”

Sajdak retired in the early 1990s but still liked to know how the stores were being run. The boy who built crystal sets and became a radio operator in World War II remained an amateur radio buff who liked collecting old radios and radio tubes or fixing a broken model for a friend. He also did more woodworking in retirement, often projects for grandchildren.

The family plans to keep the name Stan’s for its founder.

“Someone said, what a nice legacy he’s leaving,” Jim said. “And that’s something we’re interested in keeping.”