Claire Takashima has been following in her grandparents’ and parents’ footsteps since she was 11, and she got to wear nice shoes every step of the way, with her family owning the Uyeda Shoe Store since 1915.
She and her three siblings came in to help their parents with the back-to-school rush every August during the ’60s, and they learned how to measure feet, get the right shoe sizes and be nice to customers. Even before that, Takashima felt the store was where she belonged; she was only 5 when she told her father she wanted to run the store one day, but had to wait until she was 27 and Yoichiro Uyeda retired in 1981.
Uyeda’s has been a fixture in Moiliili since 1957 mainly at University Square, serving generations of the same families and, since Takashima has been in charge, providing comfortable shoes to people with foot problems. It moved next door to the University Plaza mall five years ago. That hasn’t put a dent in sales because people keep passing the word about how great their shoes fit, and podiatrists keep giving the store a lot of referrals, she said.
“Beauty and comfort — that’s the ticket. When a customer comes back, it gets me all jazzed,” said Takashima.
When she took over, she knew she had to update the merchandise, as “my father’s taste in shoes was old-fashioned.” Whereas, after spending five years working in Macy’s shoe department and attending footwear shows, “my taste on shoes was really good!” she said, laughing.
She came to realize that people were looking for shoes that could accommodate therapeutic inserts, which their podiatrists recommended, but they were hard to find. “I started specializing in them and ever since then, all the problem feet came to me,” so she learned how to customize the fit by stretching and padding their shoes. “I felt responsible to do a good job because they (the podiatrists and the customers) were depending on me to help them.”
Although there are now more shoe stores available that offer comfort shoes, Takashima said she and her staff are willing to spend time, 45 minutes if necessary, to try different styles. They try to educate people on making better choices “so they don’t keep making the same mistakes — it’s like dating the wrong kind of guy!” she said, with another big laugh.
Most of her customers are middle-aged or in their 80s and 90s, so “I have to gently change their perception” of themselves of what they were like 30 years ago, usually in their prime of life, and suggest a slightly adjustable strap with, perhaps, a lower heel, which still has a bit of style, she said.
“I take things that are really good for you, and I bling it,” Takashima said, pointing to the gray, knit Fit Flop slip-ons she wore, covered with little glittery stars — one of her bestsellers. She bought the same pair for her mother Kazue, who is 102, who absolutely loved them. “Comfort wins them over. And I use a lot of psychology.”
Gregarious by nature, Takashima makes her customers feel comfortable just being in the store. Before long, she’ll get them into talk-story mode, and will find the humor in the ordinary. Signs hanging on the walls reflect her attitude: “Life is short; buy the shoes.” Or, “Cinderella is proof that a new pair of shoes can change your life.”
Her husband, Richard Takashima, who works in the store part time, said, “She’s so much fun! … It’s just her personality. People love to come by and see her. She’s like an oasis of friendship and caring. … (to her) everybody’s part of the family.”
A retired transportation manager, Richard Takashima met his wife when they worked in the shoe department at Liberty House (formerly Macy’s), and “I was smitten” from the start, he said. When he was the shoe buyer for a different department store, and she took over Uyeda’s, they would race each other to see who could sell the most shoes in a week and “she would beat me!” with just her little store. His wife simply “has the instinct for what people like,” he added.
Although Claire Takashima is in her 60s, she bounces up and down on her knees from the floor all day to put shoes on customers, to find the right padding or arch support, or get another style. “I love doing what I do,” she said, so retirement is something far away, though she doesn’t plan to work until she’s 91, the age her mom Kazue Uyeda retired. While other family members pitch in when she’s traveling, only her nephew Mark Hashimoto works there full time.
Next to the credit card machine behind the counter is an antique cash register with a hand crank that her grandfather bought in the 1920s — “we just keep using it; it didn’t break” — as a reminder of her roots. Her grandfather Saijiro Uyeda immigrated from Hiroshima, and opened a shoe repair shop 105 years ago near Fort Street in downtown Honolulu, and adapting to the needs of the community, later started selling shoes, she said. The register can rack up sales only up to $99.99, but since cash sales are few, it’s a handy place to keep the credit card receipts and other miscellany. And it’s become a “show-and-tell” piece for youngsters.
“There’s a lot of heart in this store. Whoever takes over — it can’t be for the money,” she said.