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ORWIGSBURG -- It's not easy to maintain a family-owned business in today's economy. Just ask the owners of Kepner-Scott Shoe Company in Orwigsburg. The company is Schuylkill County has made children's shoes for more than a century.

The company building in Orwigsburg holds the oldest surviving children's shoe manufacturer in America. At least that's what the owners of Kepner-Scott Shoe Company say.

The business was started in 1888 by W.C. Kepner and Alexander Scott and has been making classic children's shoes ever since.

"We have a lot of grandmothers who come to us and say, 'Oh, we love those shoes. My kids wore those!''' said vice president Susan Murphy.

In this Schuylkill County community's heyday, there were 11 other shoe factories. Now all but one are gone. Only Kepner-Scott has stuck around.

"We've tried to keep the business small. We don't try to be everything to everybody. We find niches that work for us," explained company president Steven Zimmerman.

Those niches include the philosophy of Zimmerman's grandfather: to make a shoe that would be sturdy enough for a growing child.

"We hand craft every pair. I mean, each shoe is handled by a person here," said Murphy.

Workers say it takes more than 120 steps to make the little shoes.

It takes about 10 days to make a pair of shoes and those shoes spend the most time in the fitting room where they're all stitched together.

The owners of Kepner-Scott say one of the ingredients to a successful business is to keep your employees around.

"Our employees stay with us forever. We have great employees."

Like Barry Houser. Management jokes that he came with the building. He's been working since the Zimmerman family bought the business back in the 1960s.

"Actually, I don't feel like I've been here that long," Houser said.

He's been there 54 years and counting he has no plans to retire just yet.

"Not in the near future, no."

Speaking of the future, that's where Zimmerman is looking now and figuring out how to stay relevant for the next 100 years

"We've been very fortunate. When one door closes another one opened for us, but we need to be on the lookout for that next opportunity," said Zimmerman.

That next opportunity is right down the family tree.

Zimmerman's daughters have started their own project within the company called Zimmerman Shoes. They're taking vintage designs from the company and using a modern twist, like using vibrant colored leather.

"Hopefully we see people really appreciating an American-made product," said Audrey Zimmerman and Amelia Ozimek.

Even with this new venture, the future of Kepner-Scott hopes to be in Owrigsburg forever.

"We would never make shoes anywhere else," they laughed.

2 comments

  • Linda Martier

    So glad this was a news feature! As a young girl, who grew up in town with the Zimmerman family and have been in the factory to witness the work process, I’m especially grateful that the feature is not only supporting home town business, American pride, and good employment relationships, which out of town viewers can also see. Thanks for this particular broadcasted feature!

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