Jeanette and Larry Riechers own a Madison legend. Their Hilldale store carries a smartly curated collection of men’s and women’s shoes, along with handbags, jewelry, novelty socks, and other accessories. It’s the type of store people come back to visit when they’ve moved away, and lots of customers drive a considerable distance to enjoy the Cornblooms shopping experience.
“Every woman has a shoe story,” Jeanette says, “and we want to create those stories for our customers.” One customer came in looking for shoes for her retirement party and chose a stylish statement shoe that left no doubt she had a bright future. Your shoe story might be a pair of boots that carried you through a career change or the shoes you bought for a wedding where you met your partner and danced all night. You know you’ve created your shoe story when you create outfits around your shoes.
Shoe shopping works best when you really explore options, and Cornblooms makes that happen. Alongside timeless favorites, you’ll discover styles and brands you’ve never worn, and you are likely to leave with shoes you love. Brenda Baril, Cornblooms’ sophisticated and knowledgeable buyer, encourages customers to trust their instincts. “If you see something that really tickles you, get it. Take a chance on a really fun shoe. You’ll be surprised how versatile a fun, colored shoe can be.” The store features an ever-changing mix and is constantly bringing new shoes in. What you see one day might not be there the next, which is part of the thrill.
How does a shoe buyer decide what to buy for the store? Brenda says she plans the whole season in her head, picturing their core customers and the style they count on, then adding in sparkle and fun. For each selection, Brenda has an end use in mind, imagining who will wear the shoe, how the shoe will pair with clothing, and whether the shoes will perform well. She knows their customers are active and need shoes for work, play, and lots of travel, so she provides them with well-made, carefully selected brands.
Even though Brenda’s already planning their spring collection, she shared a few insights to guide our shoewear purchases for the winter. Boots will continue trending up, as they have for the past 8–9 years, and at Cornblooms you’ll see a great selection of short and tall boots with fresh treatments. Look for shaft heel colors, ornamentation and detail, man-tailored looks, and a mixing of textures and colors on the same boot. You’ll see there are lots of options beyond black: luxurious luggage leather and saddle leather shades, and rich, tempting colors of red, olive, moss, khaki, and navy.
Brenda reminds us that not everything has to match. If your winter wardrobe consists of lots of black, you can freshen your look with stylish footwear in luggage, saddle, or jewel tones. Many of these leathers come from Spain and Portugal, where they use a natural vegetable tanning process for a more casual, supple shoe. Unlike commercial shoes which often have the finish painted on, this natural tanning permeates the leather, producing faint mottling and attractive character.
Brands using these techniques include Dromedaris, which offers the Kara, a short boot in twisted leather and suede with a burnished toe that works for any-aged woman. Tamaris makes a classic shoe in either a pump or oxford that is both attractive and practical. Features like a full-leather lining for breathability and a mini lug sole for traction make even the pump a shoe you will reach for again and again. And Pikolinos shoes are likely to make your day. As Brenda says, “They tell a story from all directions.”
A favorite boot of the buyer, and this author, is by Fluchos-Dorking. This tall wine-red boot is a new offering from the hard-to-get, German-made line. Cornblooms is one of a handful in the United States carrying the coveted brand. “Even for us, shoes continue to provide exciting discoveries,” says Brenda.
You’ll also find classic favorites in the store. Authentic brands Frye and Birkenstock were popular at Cornblooms in the 70s, and like Kork-Ease, they are back in vogue today. Regulars also count on Dansko clogs and Sperry boat shoes.
BucketFeet is a popular new line from Chicago with offerings for women and men. These vulcanized tennis shoes provide comfort and an original look, with each of the canvas uppers designed by a different artist. The company collaborates with over 20,000 artists from 100 countries.
The expanded men’s offerings include fashionable work boots from Red Wing and The Wolverine 1000 Mile Collection, both of which work great with denim or slacks for a casual, hip look. Men also appreciate the Woolrich barefoot-friendly line and timeless styles from Frye. For outdoor enthusiasts, Cornblooms offers a full line of Keen shoes. Also new for men are the ultra-comfy Samuel Hubbard shoes and chukka boots. Created by the son of the original founders of Rockport, these Portugal-made shoes are produced with a construction technique that attaches soft glove leather to lightweight crepe soles for universally appealing comfort.
Like many of us, Jeanette discovered Cornblooms on State Street in the early 1970s, and found the iconic offerings and quirky name irresistible. Her first purchase was a pair of Frye boots, and she soon learned the original owners, inspired by the British invasion of the mid-1960s, used a London phone book as a source of possible store names. They got to “C” and discovered a haberdashery with a name so memorable and so pleasingly British that they made it their own.
By 1999, when Jeanette and Larry bought Cornblooms, the store was in Hilldale Shopping Center. They soon added more of the color and accessories we now associate with the Madison icon. Since then, they’ve expanded twice, once in 2007 and again this year. Local architect and design firm Brownhouse Designs helped them with both moves, creating interiors that complement the merchandise and build on the quirky, comfortable pizazz we’ve always liked best about Cornblooms.
The delightful new store opened just this summer with a mixture of textures and colors that play off the stylish merchandise and promise a shopping adventure. The space is full of the same fascinating attention to detail you find in the footwear. Shoes are front and center, staged on tables and shelves that provide intimate shoe vignettes, but there’s plenty of room for bracelets and jewelry, handbags and belts, novelty socks for guys and gals, and even a hospitality counter in the back of the store for a bit of refreshment.
The mix of stately white columns, sparkling glass tiles, and hand-selected barn board matches the breadth of the store’s offerings. Jeanette finds the barn board especially fitting since the store’s first sign on State Street was barn board with “Cornblooms” handwritten in white paint. That original sign hangs on the back wall of the new store, reminding customers of the staying power of a Madison classic.
Yvette Jones is the owner of designCraft Advertising, a Madison agency focused on local businesses and nonprofit organizations.
702 N. Midvale Boulevard
Madison, WI 53705