Family celebrates 70 years of sales

Neal’s Shoes has been staple in Warren despite some tough times

Neal’s Shoes is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year. The Maloy family started the business in 1948 and at one time, the business had nine locations in northeast Ohio and western Pennsylvania, including one on North Park Avenue in downtown Warren. Now, they operate a single store in the Warren Plaza on Elm Road, as well as internet sales. The store has adapted to customers’ changing needs by selling medical uniforms in addition to shoes and purses. From left, co-owner Tom Maloy; his son, Dave, store manager; Tom’s wife and co-owner, Sandy Maloy; and his daughter, Debbie Maloy.

WARREN — As the Maloy family celebrates 70 years of operating Neal’s Shoes, the owners are taking time to reflect on the store’s oldest tradition — change.

From the closure of the steel mills, the birth of the strip mall and the arrival of the internet, Neal’s has seen it all since the family purchased the business in 1948.

While Neal’s continues to thrive, that does not mean the store — and the family — have not struggled along the way.

“We had a lot of tough times,” said Tom Maloy, co-owner of the store in the Warren Plaza on Elm Road. “We had to borrow on our house.”

Tom’s son Dave said the expense and effort of running a small family business are often misunderstood.

“Everybody thinks you’ll be an instant millionaire,” said Dave. “But sometimes you’re just scraping by.”

As a boy, Tom remembers spending Saturdays stocking shoes after his father, John, bought the business in 1948. At one time, the business had nine locations in northeast Ohio and western Pennsylvania, including one on Park Avenue in Warren.

“Everything was downtown then,” said Tom, who remembers when there were five shoe stores in downtown Warren when his father bought the business.

But retail changed dramatically as shopping malls popped up all over the country and the area’s mills and factories cut back or closed altogether. The Maloys responded by operating a store in the Eastwood Mall. After 23 years there, the Maloys decided to consolidate everything into the Elm Road location.

Tom said the biggest change occurred in 2002, when the store began selling medical uniforms like lab coats and scrubs.

“That saved our business,” said Tom, who estimates 60 percent of the business is focused on shoes and 40 percent is dedicated to medical uniforms.

The family has two big sales events per year for hospitals within an hour’s drive. Dave goes from one hospital to another with a full truck, setting up a mini store where medical professionals can buy uniforms and accessories.

And Dave is ready to adapt to change again, predicting chefware will be the store’s next offering.

While medical uniforms may have saved the business, the internet, often considered a foe of independent businesses, has kept the store competitive.

“When we get deals online, we’re looking to pass the savings to the customer,” said Dave, who acts as buyer for the store. “It’s amazing how many people come here when they are only a mouse click away from buying on the internet.”

“Our prices are good and competitive with the internet,” said Tom.

One disadvantage of purchasing shoes online is the inability to try them on first.

“Shoes don’t all fit the same,” said Tom. “Different brands may have different sizes.”

Both Dave and Tom insist the store’s employees have played a big role in their success.

“The employees are excellent,” said Dave.

And despite the ups and downs, the family is grateful for the store’s longevity.

“We used to be struggling,” said Tom. “But we are very fortunate.”