LEWISTON — On the second floor of the Pepperell Mill, two dozen workers hand-make 12,000 pairs of loafers, boots and moccasins a year in an old-school factory with high ceilings and weathered wood floors for customers like Jimmy Fallon and Tom Brady.

While many other shoe shops have left town — Cole Haan used to be in this same space — Quoddy Inc. moved in nine years ago from Washington County.

“The workforce, the availability of the products — Maine Thread is right over here,” said Kevin Shorey, a fourth generation shoemaker and one of three principals who together own a majority of the company. “Lewiston is such a shoe-making mecca, always has been. There’s so many talented people here that are able to teach some of the younger people the arts of our trade, and that’s really important.”

Earlier this month, Thrillist named Quoddy specifically as one of the reasons to visit Lewiston. And people do.

Visitors tend to drop by in the summer, enough of them to fill one to three tours a week. They come to see shoes made the old-fashioned way, and to do a little shoe shopping — or, at least, ordering.

Shoes retail for as much as $500 and customers select every detail in advance: hardware, thread, soles, lacing and leather colors.

There’s a three- to four-week wait for arrival and that gap is actually important, according to Quoddy President John Andreliunas.

“It builds up the anticipation,” he said.

Plus, turn them over too fast and customers might not believe the shoes are being custom-made just for them.

“Most brands just say, ‘Here’s what we made, hope you like it,'” Andreliunas said. “We’re saying, ‘Hey, you have some input into this.’ It’s a much more individualized process. We have a 41 percent repurchase rate among our customers, which is unheard of in online sales. Our research tells us not only is it a great pair of shoes, it’s a different way of buying shoes.”

While they’ve had high-profile collaborations in the past with companies such as L.L.Bean and Ugg that help spread the brand’s name, he said the vast majority of sales are direct, made-to-order.

“The growth that’s really come is in reinventing our business model,” Andreliunas said. “We started on a much more traditional wholesale model, getting orders from stores. The world has changed so much in the last five years that we have really flipped our business to 70 percent (direct website sales) now.”

They’ve shipped to more than 80 countries as of October, according to the map in Kirsten Shorey’s office. She’s been too busy since to update it.

“We’re pretty popular in Australia because they don’t have any import tax on clothing or footwear, and we have retailers there as well,” Shorey said. “Europe is pretty strong. We’re pretty popular in Japan. We have retailers there, too.”

Roughly 80 percent of their staff worked in shoe shops prior to Quoddy, “the kind of experience you can’t buy,” Kevin Shorey said.

Quoddy’s been making shoes since 1997. About six hours of work goes into each pair as shoes pass through different hands in the factory. In the last step, they’re slid into a muslin bag printed with the company name.

“Hopefully somebody opens it up and says, ‘Wow.’ That’s our goal,” Shorey said.

In five years time, “I’d like to see Quoddy grow, I’d also like to see more involvement, bringing more people in,” he said. “I also see Quoddy growing as a brand, not just a footwear brand; I can see other options there, too.”

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Paul Gemme, who has been hand-sewing since he was 17 years old, sews a pair of women’s Lodge Moccasins at Quoddy Inc. in the Pepperell Mill on Lisbon Street in Lewiston. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)

Paul Gemme, who has been hand-sewing since he was 17 years old, sews a pair of women’s Lodge Moccasins at Quoddy Inc. in the Pepperell Mill on Lisbon Street in Lewiston. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)

Armand Bechard, who has been working in the shoe industry for 48 years, re-lasts a mid-sole at Quoddy Inc. in the Pepperell Mill on Lisbon Street in Lewiston. In the foreground is a piece of leather that he is using to stamp out soles. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)

Patti Maillette stitches uppers at Quoddy Inc. in the Pepperell Mill on Lisbon Street in Lewiston.(Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)

John Andreliunas, president of Quoddy Inc., stands in one of the production rooms in the Pepperell Mill on Lisbon Street in Lewiston.(Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)

Kevin Shorey, in the Lewiston shop, is a fourth-generation shoemaker and one of the majority-shareholder partners behind Quoddy shoe in Lewiston. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)

A pair of toddler moccasins Kevin Shorey’s grandmother sewed for his father, who wore them as a little boy. Kevin Shorey is a fourth-generation shoemaker and one of the majority-shareholder partners behind Quoddy shoe in the Pepperell Mill on Lisbon Street in Lewiston. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)

A rack of shoes in one of the offices at Quoddy Inc. in the Pepperell Mill on Lisbon Street in Lewiston. The company hand-sews about 12,000 pairs of shoes a year.(Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)

The hands and thread of Bruce Boudreault, a 36-year veteran of hand-sewing, are a blur as he crafts a pair of women’s’ driving moccasins at Quoddy Inc. in the Pepperell Mill on Lisbon Street in Lewiston. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)


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