A Place to Treat the Feet

By Lura E. Jackson

One hundred and ten years ago, Louis Bernardini would fry peanuts near the window of his fruit market, next door to the Boston Shoe Store. He had a fan set up, blowing the enticing aromas of the freshly cooked peanuts onto the Main Street of Calais, catching the interest of the farmers that had come in to town to restock on goods. Often, his customers would wind up staying well past midnight, exchanging news and feasting on the fruit and homemade ice cream Bernardini specialized in. Such was the role of the small-town store: a gathering point of good friends and rarely seen “neighbors”, a place where the community could reconnect. 

That legacy continues, thanks to the modern-day Louis (grandson to the immigrant who made his way here from Lucca, Italy) maintaining the original building that once contained his grandfather’s store. Over time, the family bought the neighboring Boston Shoe Store, and the shoe business expanded to fill the former fruit market along with the adjacent Sears and Roebuck. The peanut tradition was happily preserved, and the Shoe Store remains the source of mouthwatering warmed and salted peanuts and cashews to this day.

As one might expect, shoes remain the primary focus of the store, with an extensive inventory on display throughout its three sections. Brands from across the spectrum of footwear can be found, with a selection of fine dress shoes, sneakers, slippers, and that friend of all Mainers: boots. The store is a family operation with Louis’s daughter Meredith traveling to the shoe exhibitions to determine which models the store will feature, season to season.

In addition to the various accessories of the foot, the store offers outerwear of exceptional quality, including jackets, fleeces, hats and gloves (much of the winter gear is presently on sale at half off). Diversification has been a large part of the business’s continued existence, though it remains a challenge during the slower months.

Admitting that is difficult to compete with the convenience of online shopping and the prices of factory second goods, Mr. Bernardini says the difference is service. By being a specialty shoe store, they are able to offer a range of sizes, including wider shoes for all ages. Should your particular size not be available, it will be immediately special ordered, arriving typically within a week’s time. 

Though Calais has changed, decade by decade, it is the presence of long-standing families and businesses that unite our generations, keeping precious remnants of our past alive. The Bernardinis and the Boston Shoe Store are part of that past, and with continued support, they will be part of our future.