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Thom McAn Shoes To Fade From Mall Scene

July 10, 1996

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (AP) _ Imelda Marcos probably never shopped at what was affectionately known as ``America’s shoe store.″ But millions of people headed to Thom McAn for nearly 75 years before imports and trendier outlets wore a hole in sales.

Now, the shoe store with the unusually spelled name, is about to fade from the mall scene, the victim of corporate restructuring that favors a more athletic-sounding title.

By mid-1997, Thom McAn stores will turn into stores named Footaction, or they will simply be closed, under a plan announced in June by its parent company, Melville Corp.

Founded in 1922, Thom McAn has been branded into the soles of shoe fanatics wishing to fill their closets with moderately-priced foot fashions.

``They, along with Kinney Shoes, led the way when they became a national presence in the 60s and into the 70s as malls proliferated and the interstate system spread,″ said Peter T. Mangione, president of Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America.

There was no real Thom McAn, but rather the name was created by two shoe industry pioneers, J.F. McElwain and Frank Melville, said Fred Bloom, a historian of the Massachusetts shoe industry.

And the man who helped make Thom McAn a household name was Frank Rooney, also a founder of the conglomerate Melville, who helped bring the shoe stores to shopping districts and eventually into malls around the country.

``Frank brought Thom McAn into the modern age. He had it all together when it came to marketing, merchandising and the early days of malls. He knew what the consumer of that day wanted,″ said Michael Appell, president of the Two/Ten International Footwear Foundation in Watertown, Mass.

But in recent years, increased competition forced Thom McAn stores to close, falling from 800 outlets four years ago to 300 today. Sales of children’s shoes were stopped about two years ago.

In its restructuring announcement, Melville said it would convert as many as 100 out of 270 Thom McAn stores into Footaction stores. About 140 people at the company’s headquarters in Worcester, Mass., will lose their jobs.

The changes at Thom McAn come as the retail market undergoes a difficult time.

``It’s just that much of the industry failed to change with the times,″ Bloom said.

At the Cambridgeside Galleria, a trendy mall just across the Charles River from Boston, few customers appeared concerned that the familiar red Thom McAn sign will disappear.

``There are other stores around that are just more trendy,″ said Paul Stonkus, a business consultant. ``The current image is what people look for. Some of the older stores just aren’t going to make it.″

Others, though, see it as a passing of a dependable institution.

Tony Dorn called the end of Thom McAn ``a tragedy.″

``It’s like if Ted Williams passed away,″ he said.

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