During my research for this column over the years, the ads for one prominent early Vincennes business, with the unlikely name the Elephant Shoe Store, always caught my attention. I finally decided to research the business and tell its story.
The Elephant Shoe Store was established in 1876 by Columbus J. Lipe & Samuel A. Holmes, both from Jerseyville, Illinois.
The unusual name came from the idea that elephants are big, of course, drawing attention, and the fact that the store was a leader in its type of merchandise, and elephants were leaders, meaning they led the procession in circus parades.
The store became known as “the Old Reliable.”
The partners had two stores on Main Street between First and Second Streets, until early 1882, when they consolidated at 120 Main.
The Elephant Shoe Store carried all kinds of boots, shoes and other footwear. For Christmas 1882, they advertised embroidered men’s slippers for $1.25. A July 3, 1885, store ad in the “Weekly Western Sun,” boasted: “The best $3.00 calf shoe in America.”
On March 1, 1884, the two men dissolved their partnership by mutual consent, with Lipe taking over the store. Henry Badollet, a native of Lawrence County, Illinois, started out as a salesclerk for Lipe & Holmes and was then head salesman.
In September1886, the store was moved to 310 Main Street, where it operated for the remainder of its history.
Newspaper ads played off the store’s name, with items such as: “And the Elephant still leads the procession and all competition” and “Stop that Elephant! Don’t you see that he is throwing too much dust in the eyes of his competitors?”
Lipe retired at the end of the year 1889. Badollet then acquired an interest in the store, taking on S. H. Isaacs as a partner until Isaacs’ retirement in July 1892, with Badollet then assuming full ownership.
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The various owners came up with some unique ways to increase sales and publicize the store. In the spring of 1883, since Saturday was then the big shopping day, they offered special bargains on Tuesday through Friday. When school started in the fall of 1887, they gave a free kite to each child whose parents bought them a new pair of shoes.
In October 1891, during fair week, they released three balloons, each affixed with a card entitling the finder to a free pair of shoes. At least one balloon was recovered in an apple orchard in Lawrence County. The man who found it brought in the card and got his free shoes.
The business grew to become one of the most important shoe stores in southern Indiana and Illinois.
Badollet would have one more partner, Leslie D. Sinclair, although Sinclair was a financial partner and did not take part in daily operations of the business. Sinclair took his own life on Oct. 14, 1899, after which Badollet continued running the store making all kinds of changes and improvements.
In March 1902, Badollet sold his entire stock to Jacob Philipson, who had a shoe store at 208 Main Street. Philipson later sold the stock to Gimbel, Haughton & Bond, where he took a job as a clerk.
After closing his store, Henry Badollet accepted a job as manager of the shoe department of the big Flint-Holmes Co. Department Store at First and Main Streets.
Badollet’s only daughter, Ida, died in a natural gas explosion at the family home in October 1908. Her father never recovered from that loss. He died at the age of 71 on May 21, 1910. At the time of his death, the “Western Sun” commented that at one time: “Mr. Badollet and his store were known by every man, woman and child in the county.”
Burial was in Greenlawn Cemetery.
Brian Spangle can be reached at email@example.com. His latest book, “Hidden History of Vincennes & Knox County,” published in 2020 by The History Press, is available for purchase at the Knox County Public Library and on Amazon.