Public Shoe Store in Clarendon was one of the neighborhood’s longest-running and most recognizable businesses, operating from 1938 to 2016. The business was operated by brothers Dr. Sholom H. “Doc” Friedman and Joel Friedman for much of that time, after being founded by the Friedmans’ father Samuel Friedman in the 1930s. Dr. Friedman was a trained podiatrist, and the business was known for specializing in comfort shoes and custom fitting. Dr. Friedman passed away in 2019.
The original location of the store was where the Clarendon Metro station currently stands, but when construction came through the neighborhood the business moved to its longstanding storefront at 3137 Wilson Boulevard. The shoe store was also a meeting place for members of the Arlington-Fairfax Jewish Congregation (now Etz Hayim), who would gather on the second floor of the shop.
Advertisement in the Northern Virginia Sun for Public Shoe Store, October 31, 1968. Image courtesy of Virginia Chronicle.
In this oral history, Dr. Sholom “Doc” Friedman and two of his children, Karen Widmayer and Mark Friedman, discuss the history of the shop and the impact it had on the Arlington community. Other details in the interview include how the children often ran the cash registers, and how the shop worked with President Carter's family in the 1970s. Here is a brief excerpt from the interview:
Narrator 1: Dr. Sholom “Doc” Friedman
Narrator 2: Karen Widmayer
Interviewer: Virginia Smith
Date: March 8, 2015
Virginia Smith: Okay. So how does the building work? What do you do? You set up the retail place in the main floor?
Sholom Friedman: Right.
VS: What’s downstairs?
SF: It used to be stored shoes, but I’ve been decreasing the stock now.
VS: Towards the end of this—the life of the business.
VS: But that was full downstairs—was inventory.
VS: And upstairs was—?
SF: Upstairs we had a little balcony.
Karen Widmayer: Yeah, the main floor is all selling floor and stock. And the basement had all stock and some storage. And then there’s a mezzanine level that’s about a quarter of a floor-size up in the back, and that was just some storage space.
SF: Storage, right.
View of Wilson Boulevard from east to west, including the large Public Shoe Store sign, 1991.
VS: So it was all your dad [Samuel Friedman] needed? Large enough?
SF: Oh, yeah. It was a pretty big operation back then.
VS: Sounds like it. What decade would you call your heyday, the best years, or the best decades?
SF: Probably after the war.
VS: So the ‘40s and ‘50s when families were moving and growing and all that sort of stuff.
KW: Even when I worked there, I mean, there’d be ten or fifteen numbers pulled, people sitting and waiting. I mean, it was crazy on Saturdays.
VS: That’s good business—that was a Saturday.
KW: Yeah, that was still ’60—well, I was—started working there when I was about seven, so that’s late ‘60s and into the early ‘70s. I think at that point, that’s when things started changing a little bit with Arlington and the retail. But the businesses stayed.
The exterior of Public Shoe Store around the time of its closing in 2016.
The goal of the Arlington Voices project is to showcase the Center for Local History’s oral history collection in a publicly accessible and shareable way.
The Arlington Public Library began collecting oral histories of long-time residents in the 1970s, and since then the scope of the collection has expanded to capture the diverse voices of Arlington’s community. In 2016, staff members and volunteers recorded many additional hours of interviews, building the collection to 575 catalogued oral histories.
To browse our list of narrators indexed by interview subject, check out our community archive. To read a full transcript of an interview, visit the Center for Local History located at Central Library.