By Ashley Arneson
Timeline by Maggie Trovato
Dryer’s Shoe Store is celebrating its 65th year of business this year.
Dryer’s opened its doors in Columbia in 1956, making it the oldest continuous retailer downtown. Since opening, Dryer’s has been run as a family business and has been passed down through three generations.
R. Newton Riley began working at Dryer’s original location in Lebanon, Missouri in 1951. After working retail in the Lebanon store for five years, Riley aspired to open a location in Columbia. With the permission of the owner, Riley moved his wife and their six children to Columbia to open a second Dryer’s in the heart of downtown.
The second Dryers began as a discount shoe store and was the only retailer of its kind in Columbia upon opening. However, by the 1960s the store began experiencing hardships.
Katie Essing, the former director of The District, Columbia’s downtown shopping district, and a marketing professor at MU said, “In the 60s and 70s we started to have this sprawl happening where people started to expand from downtowns and start to live in suburbs.”
This outward move caused retail locations to follow , drawing consumers away from downtown. Essing said that this is also when , shopping malls started being built around Columbia.
Riley and his Dryer’s team survived the competition from malls and the suburbs by emphasizing customer service and generating a shoe store experience like no other in town.
Today Dryer’s shoe store is owned and operated by R. Newton Riley’s grandson, Justin Riley. The younger Riley fondly remembers working in his grandfather’s store. He decided to buy the business after working retail in the shoe store for more than 20 years.
Dryer’s has lifelong customers who have told him stories of his grandfather’s commitment to customer service, Riley said.
“I hear all kinds of just crazy stuff about him,” Riley said, “like just walking up to the cars at the stoplight and saying, ‘Hey, we got this shoe store, you need to come check us out.’”
Dryer remains as it was when Rileys grandfather founded it. The store includes nearly all of the original finishes Including the copper ceiling, neon sign and cash register.
Dryer’s has had to change over the years to keep up with trends and market demands. No longer operates a discount shoe store, it’s now focused on what Riley called, “fashion forward comfort.”
The entire Dryer’s staff is trained in shoe sizing to assist customers with their individual comfort needs. Justin said, “About 40 percent of people that walk through the door are Riley not only credits his grandfather’s business strategy for Dryer’s success, but also Columbia’s support of local businesses.
“We have a downtown that our city supports and puts money into to keep it up and going,” he said. “Our community just likes local businesses and so they want us to be successful.”
Justin Riley said Dryer’s has experienced record sales in the past six years and he looks forward to what the future holds for the family business.
Note: This package is the result of a partnership between a class at the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism and CoMoHistoricPlaces.com