The bewildered look on Chris Mobley’s face reveals a great deal about the way he’s sold shoes for 40-plus years.
The Hale’s Shoe Store owner is recounting a recent trip to a chain store’s shoe department where he encountered something wholly bizarre.
“There were shoes all over the floor and people trying them on themselves,” Mobley says. “At the store here, we’re not living in the fast lane where you’re trying on your shoes by yourself. The first thing that comes off the wall when you walk in is a foot measurer.”
Mobley started working at Hale’s Shoe Store in 1964 when he was just 22 years old. He quickly learned the importance of individualized service and attention to detail that has been a part of the store’s tradition since it was opened by Hunter Hale in the ’20s. After two decades, Hale sold his store to Gene Jontz, who became Mobley’s mentor until 1977, when Mobley became Hale’s Shoe Store’s final owner.
He hasn’t set a date, but sometime in the next two months Mobley will close his business, which has been nestled in the heart of downtown between Central and Gold on Fifth Street since the ’30s. “I’m just worn out,” Mobley says. “I’ve hit a wall and it’s time to move on.”
Mobley admits Hale’s wasn’t meant for a world where once-beloved items are no longer cherished and quality is sacrificed for convenience.
“When I was a kid growing up, your first pair of shoes were very special,” Mobley says. “As you get older, I think maybe people start to take those things for granted.”
It’s easy to understand why Mobley has succeeded in business for four decades. Without flashy gimmicks or the latest fashions, Hale’s has prospered because of salesmanship. Mobley speaks with a great sense of accomplishment when he mentions customers he’s helped find the perfect fit. Hale’s carries a large selection of orthopedic shoes along with traditional footwear, and Mobley has always found comfort in easing people’s pain.
When I was a kid growing up, your first pair of shoes were very special. As you get older, I think maybe people start to take those things for granted.
The customers cataloged on note cards in Mobley’s old-fashioned record-keeping system are treated as unique people with specific needs. Mobley doesn’t just recognize the importance of one-on-one attention; he relishes it. “The other day this couple that’s bought shoes from here took my wife and I out for dinner,” Mobley says. “She wears a real wide, short shoe, and he wears a real narrow, long shoe. Talk about opposites attracting.”
Hale’s has rarely tried to chase trends in the industry. Never one to pass up a trusted model for a new style, Mobley scoffs at the notion of jumping on the bandwagon of the “next big thing” in footwear. “I don’t go for what’s ‘hot,’ ” Mobley says. “It’s like Mr. Hale used to always tell Mr. Jontz, Don’t try to stock what people think they want. Give them what they need," Mobley says.
Over the years, Mobley has passed on his knowledge of the industry to his loyal employees, most of whom he’s still in touch with. Though his daughter Samantha is his only offspring, Mobley’s relationship with many of his ex-employees is comparable to that of a father and his children. Years ago, Mobley even helped a former employee buy a car. The soon-to-be-retired salesman fondly remembers the day the worker returned to pay him back after getting on his feet.
“He was having girl problems,” Mobley says. “After he broke up with his girlfriend, things got better for him, and I sure got a kick out of him coming in to pay me back.”
With no heir apparent to take over his business, Mobley is content to put the finishing touches on a lengthy chapter in downtown Albuquerque’s history. While he looks forward to a life of “fishing and flying,” it’s not surprising what Mobley will miss most.
“The people are the best part of all of this,” Mobley says. “It’s been good for me to be able to give people what they need.”