Stout’s Shoe Store on Mass Ave opened its doors 130 years ago, making it not only Indianapolis’ oldest shoe store, but the oldest shoe store in the United States. In 1886, Stout’s Shoe Store welcomed its first shoppers to its location at 318 Massachusetts Avenue, a historic store front that Stout’s still calls home. The founders, Harry Stout and William Bristor established the company during the time of hand cobbled shoes. There off the shelf shoe concept was a brand new business model that proved to carry this Indianapolis business from the 19th century into the 21st century.
The story of Stout’s survival through two World Wars, a Great Depression and the decline and rebirth of Mass Ave as an Indianapolis cultural district is an incredible part of Indianapolis history. In the early 20th century, Stout’s set itself apart with a specialty system of wrapping and transporting shoes within the store, which is still utilized today. The Baldwin Flying system, as it is called, helped to centralize the wrapping process. After a salesperson rang up the purchase, the shoes were placed in a basket with the customer’s payment. The basket was then lifted to the mezzanine of the store, where the purchase was wrapped and change was made. The wrapped shoes and change were then sent back to the customer via another basket.
When founder Harry Stout died in 1912, his brother assumed control of the store while his three sons, Oliver, Sidney and Dick, fought in World War I. During this time and the roaring twenties, Stout’s opened multiple location in Indianapolis downtown. However, the Great Depression took its toll. Their Mass Ave location was the only to survive the economic downturn. When Stout’s sons returned from fighting a second World War, they took over the business.
Sidney was a quirky character in Indianapolis, keeping both a monkey and a parrot in the store. But as shopping malls popped up in outlaying suburbs during the 1950s and 60s, Stout’s faced another challenge. The once vibrant shopping mecca that was Mass Ave was replaced by rundown store fronts and vagrants. But Stout’s held on, continuing to thrive despite many obstacles.
By 1982, the store had already been transferred to a new generation of Stout men. Oliver’s son Harry had handed the business over to his son Brad. It was Harry who began the revitalization of Mass Ave around this time, renovating Stout’s facade and the facade of a neighboring building. In the 80s and 90s, Stout’s opened locations in Carmel, Greenwood, and Brownsburg.
Today the store is run by a Brad Stout, four generations away from the founder his great grandfather, and his wife Stephanie. Keeping his Uncle Sidney’s quirky reputation alive, Stout is home to Ripely, a colorful macaw with attitude. The 16 year old bird can be seen sitting outside the store on his cage, or greeting visitors from the inside with a frightful scream.
As one of the oldest downtown Indianapolis shopping boutiques, Stout’s Shoe Store is a symbol of the resilience of all Hoosiers. With prime Indianapolis real estate on Mass Ave, Stout’s offers a full service experience. Stout’s knowledgeable sales staff will help find the right pair style, size and fit for you. Walk out of Stout’s Shoe Store happy in brand new pair of kicks. From sneakers to pumps to skeletoes, Stout’s has it all.
Stop into Stout’s to browse their wide selection of merchandise. Visit with Ripley the macaw. And marvel at this piece of living Indianapolis history. Stout’s Shoe Store is a cornerstone of the Indianapolis shopping experience on Mass Ave.
A wall of shoes at Stout’s Shoe Store
The front door of Stout’s Shoes with original tile entry way
The outdoor sign of Stout’s Shoes
Stout’s Shoe Store
319 Massachusetts Avenue
Indianapolis, IN 46204