Remembering 118 years of Arenz Shoes’ business and service

Sparta's Arenz Shoes and Formal Wear owner proud of career, says it's time to retire and focus on family
Arenz Shoes Closing

SPARTA, Wis. (WKBT) – All good things must eventually come to an end. It’s the end of an era for one family shoe business in Sparta after more than 100 years in the community.

Styles are never constant in the shoe business.

“Size and fit and comfort and function. Not so much fashion,” said Mike Arenz, owner of Arenz Shoes and Formal Wear in Sparta.

Businesses build new strategies to get people to open their doors. Since 1902, the one consistent sight in Sparta is the name on a store. The store owned by a family that’s made the shoe fit for 118 years.

“I was born and raised in Arenz shoes,” Arenz said.

Arenz has grown up within these walls.

“Forty-four years ago I was finally allowed when I was 16 to sell shoes,” he said.

He had big shoes to fill.

“When your name is on the front door and above the wall out there…and you don’t want to let your own name down,” Arenz said.

Ironically reputations are magnified in small towns. Arenz’s business has been a staple in the area starting in La Crosse.

“After that, went to Madison, Dubuque, Winona, Stoughton, and then they had outlying stores from that,” he said.

Retail has changed a bit in a century’s time.

“I have sold things on Amazon,” he said. “That has been part of my business the last few years.”

Shoppers still like a personal touch.

“A question can be asked here,” Arenz said. “You can’t just type on a keyboard.”

How does a business survive this long?

“I don’t know what the answer is to that question,” he said.

If he had to guess, it’s an algorithm of patience, decisions, and ability to fail.

“Oh yes. Yeah, there’s been mistakes that have been made,” he said.

Failure is the reason people succeed.

“As I’ve changed I think the store has changed too and that’s as it should be,” Arenz said.

His next decision is his biggest change yet.

“I’m the last Arenz that’s finally going to retire,” he said.

He sees it as an opportunity to make up for what he’s missed.

“Whether it’d be weddings, hunting trips, canoe trips with friends,” Arenz said. “Whatever it might be where you’re tied down to a business much like a farmer is tied down to their farm.”

He said people have been wishing his family well.

“People have been so supportive,” he said.

Mike’s name may be on the building, but he said his family is the most important part of his life.

“Arenz shoes is what I do,” he said. “It’s not who I am.”

Mike is a son, husband, father, grandfather, and friend.

“We’ve had many employees that have been with us for 20 plus years,” he said. “They’re family just like family is family.”

Arenz Shoes ties in with family.

“I’ve actually gotten phone calls from family I’ve never met that saw this online that we were closing,” Arenz said. “Their father or their grandfather had run one of the stores.”

He’s an owner who believes family comes first and now he will have the time to spend with his own.

Arenz said he already has a buyer lined up for the building. He also said the pandemic had no effect on his plans to retire.