LEWISTON — On the second floor of the Pepperell Mill, two dozen workers hand-make 12,000 pairs of loafers, boots and moccasins a year in an old-school factory with high ceilings and weathered wood floors for customers like Jimmy Fallon and Tom Brady.

While many other shoe shops have left town – Cole Haan used to be in this same space – Quoddy Inc. moved in nine years ago from Washington County.

Paul Gemme, who has been making shoes since he was 17, hand sews Lodge Moccasins at Quoddy Inc. in the Pepperell Mill in Lewiston. Eighty percent of the custom shoe company’s staff have worked for other shoemakers. Sun Journal/Russ Dillingham/

“The workforce, the availability of the products – Maine Thread is right over here,” said Kevin Shorey, a fourth-generation shoemaker and one of three principals who together own a majority of the company. “Lewiston is such a shoemaking mecca, always has been. There’s so many talented people here that are able to teach some of the younger people the arts of our trade, and that’s really important.”

Earlier this month, Thrillist named Quoddy specifically as one of the reasons to visit Lewiston. And people do.

Visitors tend to drop by in the summer, enough of them to fill one to three tours a week. They come to see shoes made the old-fashioned way, and to do a little shoe shopping – or, at least, ordering.

Shoes retail for as much as $500 and customers select every detail in advance: hardware, thread, soles, lacing and leather colors.

There’s a three- to four-week wait for delivery, and that gap is important, Quoddy President John Andreliunas said.

“It builds up the anticipation,” he said.

Plus, turn them over too fast and customers might not believe the shoes are being made just for them.

“Most brands just say, ‘Here’s what we made, hope you like it,’ ” Andreliunas said. “We’re saying, ‘Hey, you have some input into this.’ It’s a much more individualized process. We have a 41 percent repurchase rate among our customers, which is unheard of in online sales. Our research tells us not only is it a great pair of shoes, it’s a different way of buying shoes.”

Paul Gemme sews Lodge Moccasins. Sun Journal/Russ Dillingham

While they’ve had high-profile collaborations in the past with companies such as L.L. Bean and Ugg that help spread the brand’s name, he said the vast majority of sales are direct, made-to-order.

“The growth that’s really come is in reinventing our business model,” Andreliunas said. “We started on a much more traditional wholesale model, getting orders from stores. The world has changed so much in the last five years that we have really flipped our business to 70 percent (direct website sales) now.”

They’ve shipped to more than 80 countries as of October, according to the map in Kirsten Shorey’s office. She’s been too busy since to update it.

“We’re pretty popular in Australia because they don’t have any import tax on clothing or footwear, and we have retailers there as well,” Shorey said. “Europe is pretty strong. We’re pretty popular in Japan. We have retailers there, too.”

Roughly 80 percent of their staff worked in shoe shops prior to Quoddy, “the kind of experience you can’t buy,” Kevin Shorey said.

Completed shoes in one of the Quoddy offices. Sun Journal/Russ Dillingham

Quoddy’s been making shoes since 1997. About six hours of work goes into each pair as shoes pass through different hands in the factory. In the last step, they’re slid into a muslin bag printed with the company name.

“Hopefully somebody opens it up and says, ‘Wow.’ That’s our goal,” Shorey said.

In five years time, “I’d like to see Quoddy grow, I’d also like to see more involvement, bringing more people in,” he said. “I also see Quoddy growing as a brand, not just a footwear brand; I can see other options there, too.”

Kathryn Skelton can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.