from Holland wooden shoe factory is better known, but the Holland Shoe Company made more shoes.
The Holland Shoe Company began in 1902 as Guttman, Carpenter and Telling Shoe Works, named after its three Chicago founders. The plant was located at the northeast corner of Cleveland Avenue and Sixteenth Street, just east of Heinz, south of the CL King Basket Factory and west of the Holland Sugar Company.
Within a year, the shoe company employed 200 people, including 35 women, who produced 1,000 pairs of shoes a day. The Cappon and Bertch Leather Company supplied the leather.
Even working 12-hour shifts, workers could not keep up with orders. In 1914, the company employed 400 workers making 3,000 shoes a day, or about one million a year. By then, the owners had expanded the factory three times.
In 1920, the owners extended the factory again by adding a second floor at the north end of the building. They also increased the payroll of 100 workers.
Unfortunately, due to the Depression, employment had fallen to 160 by the late 1930s. In 1939, the owners merged Holland Shoe Company with the larger Racine (Wisconsin) Shoe Company. Then, during the war years, the business rebounded.
In 1943, the Racine factory produced 1.5 million combat boots for the US Army and the Dutch factory produced 240,000 shoes for the US Navy. In 1944, due to a labor shortage, the owners closed the factory in Racine and moved production to Holland. There, the workers produced about 120,000 shoes.
During the 1950s, the company sold shoes under the Doctor, McCoy and Holland brand names. In 1956, a new management took over. In 1964 they sold to a group of companies in St. Louis, who sold the Dutch factory in 1966. The new buyers moved the machines from the Dutch factory to Milwaukee and closed the Dutch factory in 1967 .
HJ Heinz purchased the property, razed the building, and used the location for shipping and receiving. He left the property in the 1980s and the city purchased it. Today it is part of Kollen Park.
But the company’s legacy lives on. One of his workers, James “Jim” Borr, worked as a “laster” – a person who stretches leather over metal devices that resemble a human foot. He left the business in 1923 to open the Holland Boot Store above an office at 31 W. Eighth Street.
In 1927, he moved his store to 232 River Ave. His younger brother, Matthew, who worked as a “cobbler” at the factory — someone who ripped faulty shoes off the production line to repair them — joined him in 1929. By 1931, they had moved the store to 13 W. Eighth St. and renamed it Borr’s Bootery.
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Their younger brother, Simon, joined them before going into insurance. By 1936 they had moved the store again to 31 W. Eighth St. By 1940 they had moved to 21 W. Eighth Street. In 1963, the brothers sold their business to Thomas Muller.
Meanwhile, Roger Bergman was attending Holland Christian High School. He graduated in 1964. To earn money for his tuition, he took a job at the Holland-Racine Shoe Company, working as a “hooligan” in the factory. Nine months later, he took a job at Bay Casting. Then, in the winter of 1965-66, his former boss called him back to move the Holland-Racine machines to Milwaukee. In February 1966, Bergman joined Borr’s Bootery.
In 1971 Muller moved the store to 51 E. Eighth St. In 1974 Muller sold Borr’s Bootery to Morrie Tubergen, and Tubergen sold a minority stake to Roger Bergman. Tubergen opened a second store in Grand Haven in 1979, operated by Bergman.
In 1987, Bergman hired Kathy Tubergen (no relation to Morrie), then a high school student.
In 1988 Tubergen opened a third store at the Westshore Mall, but neither the Holland store nor the mall prospered, so Bergman left to work at the Muller store in Breton Village. Next, Bergman asked Tubergen if he could buy Borr’s.
In 1990, Bergman got his wish. In 1991, he closed the mall store. In 2007, Bergman sold Borr’s to Kathy Tubergen, who sold a minority stake to Sharon Behm. A store location remains at 51 E. Eighth St. in Holland.
Information for this story comes from Holland Michigan by Robert Swierenga, The Dutch Sentinel and an interview with Roger Bergman in 2022.
— Community columnist Steve VanderVeen is a resident of the Netherlands. Contact him via start-upacademeinc.com.