A Brief History of Lamey Wellehan Shoes
“Welcome to Lamey-Wellehan, Maine’s most modern family shoe store. Charles A. Lamey and Daniel J. Wellehan, the boys from home, invite you to view their stylish collection of footwear. They employ the most modern fitting techniques to ensure your comfort from the daintiest to the most virile foot. It will be the pleasure of the boys from home to serve you for years to come in their store…where you are always a guest before you are a customer.” Charles A. Lamey and Daniel J. Wellehan - 1914
The year was 1914. Two of Peck’s department store employee’s, Charlie Lamey and Dan Wellehan, left their respective posts; Charlie a shoe buyer, and Dan a window trimmer, to open their own shoe store. The grand opening on March 17, 1914 was celebrated by giving shamrocks to all the friends and guests who were in to congratulate the young men on what would be an instant success; Lamey Wellehan Shoes.
While many traditions have been passed down to the present, more important was the service bestowed upon people that first day of business. Charlie and Dan held the belief that in their store, you are always a guest before you are a customer. This ideological foundation was built upon to create a powerful mission of service and over 100 years later has proven unbreakable.
At the start of WWI Dan left Charlie to run the business while he served as a Naval Aviator. While serving in the navy he met Norman Rockwell, who intended to paint Wellehan as the “Typical American Gob.” On the night of the sitting Dan was struck down with the Flu of 1917. Of the eight sailors brought to the infirmary that night, seven perished by morning, but Dan made it through and was soon home and back to work with Charlie.
All in the Family
Charles Lamey married Dan’s sister Mary, uniting the two partners into one family. One Sunday upon arriving at church Dan received a message to hurry home, Charlie was ill. By the time Wellehan reached his friend’s side, Charles Lamey had died from a sudden heart attack. He and Mary had been wed only a few months. Sadly, the couple had no children. Mary would go on to become a school teacher and never remarried. There were no Lamey children to carry on in the business after Charlie’s death. However, Dan and later his son Jim have been proud for nine decades to carry on his name.
Tragedy and Expansion
While Dan and his family dealt with the loss of Charlie, business continued to boom. The opening of Lamey Wellehan’s Rumford, Maine location came in the late 1920’s, and then in 1931 the opening of a store in Portland, ME continued the trend of expansion. Tragedy struck again in 1933, just 10 days after the birth of Dan Wellehan’s first son, Dan Jr., when a fire from a neighboring building spread and destroyed the Lewiston location. Dan would relocate and re-open temporarily while the store was rebuilt on the original location site. Over the years Lamey Wellehan continued to expand, first to Maine’s capitol city, Augusta in 1944, then to Lawrence, Mass in 1945.
WWII and Sebago Inc.
Times became difficult after WWII as there was a shortage of hand-sewn footwear in America. Dan Sr. teamed up with shoe manufacturer, Joe Cordeau, and opened Sebago Inc. in 1946 to relieve some of the pressure on his business. Sebago grew to become an industry leader, offering a vast array of sizes and widths. Both of Dan’s sons would go on to be part of the family legacy. Dan Jr. first attempted to break in to the retail business. After deciding he preferred his Saturdays free of retail burdens (and open to sailing) he turned to the manufacturing end of the family business, known as Sebago. Jim, the younger son, involved himself in the retail stores after spending time in the army, teaching in South Africa, and graduating college with his MBA.
Business continued to be strong for both of the Wellehan operations. Sebago was rapidly growing to become an international name in the boat shoe market, and Lamey Wellehan continued to expand, leasing the shoe department by request of Mr. Stern at Stern’s Department Store in Waterville, Maine in 1974.
A New Era
The end of an era came in June of 1976 with the death of Dan Wellehan, Sr. The next generation of Lamey Wellehan shoes fell on the shoulders of Jim who picked up where his father left off. A few months after his father’s death, the Boston Shoe company negotiated the sale of their South Portland, ME and Brunswick, ME locations with Lamey Wellehan. The two new locations were opened a mere 5 weeks after the first call from Boston Shoe. 1978 brought the close of the Lawrence, Mass store, but Jim rebounded a year later by opening a store in the Auburn Mall.
Locations for their stores have come and gone, Stern’s Department Store is no longer open, and Rumford, downtown Portland, and Massachusetts, no longer have Lamey Wellehan locations. The closure of these stores has never been viewed as a defeat, just moving with the times and with the customers. The Lewiston store was closed as the Auburn store just over the river had picked up a large portion of the business largely due to more convenient parking.
Heading into the millennium Lamey-Wellehan has undergone many new changes.
- Lamey-Wellehan associates have attended school and have become board-certified pedorthists, adding a new level to service.
- A new location was opened in Bangor, Maine in the summer of 2002.
- In 2005 the Auburn store was relocated to a larger, more diverse building on Turner Street (to be closer to the guests, the company’s offices are now located on the top floor of that building).
- A few years after that the Augusta location was relocated into a larger building.
- In 2009 a new store was opened in Scarborough, replacing the Maine Mall store. In designing and building this store great effort was made to increase energy efficiency and reduce the carbon footprint. Read more about our sustainability efforts.
- In 2011 Lamey Wellehan was honored to be named Retailer of the Year by B.S.T.A., the New England trade group of footwear suppliers.
While the company has changes over the years the motto has stayed the same - “where you are always a guest before you are a customer”.