If you’re in need of new footwear, or in the mood to chat with a friendly parrot, take yourself to Stout’s Shoes in downtown Indianapolis, in business in the same location and owned by the same family since 1886.
Stout’s makes buying shoes a kinetic, theatrical experience: a rolling ladder moves across a wall of shoe boxes, a Rube Goldbergesque contraption shoots your selection in a basket from the selling floor to the mezzanine wrapping area and whizzes it back to the sales counter where a clerk presents you with your receipt and a shoe box neatly wrapped in brown butcher paper. While you wait for your package, you can have a conversation with Ripley, the parrot who calls the store home.
The moving basket delivery system dates from 1912, called the Baldwin Flyer. With the manufacturer long defunct, the current fourth and fifth-generation Stouts have learned how to repair and keep the trademark in operation. Ripley, age 19, is a second generation mascot. Billy, the original parrot, arrived in the ‘40s or ‘50s to help sell Polly Parrot children’s shoes. In nice weather, you’ll sometimes find Ripley in his giant cage on a pole stand on the sidewalk, saying hello to passersby.
Stout’s is a throwback about shoes, too, selling well-made shoes that fit perfectly. The store has a stellar reputation for fitting difficult feet. It stocks brands from Florsheim to Ecco and Ugg in the historic store at 318 Massachusetts Avenue.
Masschusetts Avenue was known as Skid Row in the ‘60s and ‘70s until Harry Stout, now 89 and the third generation to run the store, made a bold, innovative decision. In the early ‘80s, he restored the 1872 Italianate building to its original appearance, sparking a two-decade renaissance in the area that produced Mass Ave, a free-spirited district of arts and culture, restaurants and retail that bills itself as “45 degrees from ordinary.”
About Hidden Gems Indiana
Each week Indiana Landmarks uses insider knowledge to highlight historic places worth a visit, from the quirky to the sublime: small towns, neighborhoods, restaurants, shops, parks, cemeteries, scenic drives, museums—you get the idea. Learn more about Indiana Landmarks at www.indianalandmarks.org.