|It's New to Us by Jean Stratton
Family Footwear From Hulit's Is Longtime Princeton Tradition
There aren't too many anymore. The friendly family hometown shoe store has become a vanishing breed in many areas. Princeton is lucky to have Hulit's Shoes, a downtown mainstay since 1929!
Opened by Warren Hulit, it has been "All in the Family' ever since. His children, Ralph, Pete, Clara, Nellie, and Lillian were all involved in the store (another son, Gus, owned The Cummins Shop, a popular Princeton gift shop). Today, Clara's son Chuck Simone and his wife, Phyllis, are the owners of Hulit's.
The Simones' son, Ryan, is also on staff, representing the fourth generation of Hulit family members in the store.
"I worked in the store after school and on weekends," recalls Mr. Simone, "and my father Charlie Simone was also at the store. A lot of my cousins worked here, too, to see if they liked it."
In addition, generations of customers from the same family have been loyal patrons. Kids, who got their first baby shoes at Hulit's now have children or grandchildren also getting their shoes at the store.
"We have fifth generation customers little ones!" says Mr. Simone. "We have had very loyal customers, and one of the nice things is that many of them have become friends."
Princeton has had its share of celebrities, who also need shoes, and one of Hulit's most cherished memories was the opportunity to fit the feet of the town's resident genius, Albert Einstein, in 1952.
According to a recent Time Magazine report, Professor Einstein's secretary rang the store, requesting an emergency house call. Dr. Einstein's feet hurt, and he suspected ill-fitting shoes.
Partner Pete Hulit arrived at 112 Mercer Street with a foot measurer and a few pairs of shoes. Professor Einstein, attempting to find the source of his discomfort, had sketched a diagram of his shoes, indicating the pattern of foot pressure. One labeled "bad" identified pressure on the outside of his foot.
Mr. Hulit decided that Einstein needed bigger shoes. A pair of black shoes were comfortable, and the famous physicist signed his name to his shoe drawing and gave it to Pete Hulit. It remains a prize possession of Mr. Hulit today.
Shoe styles have undergone dramatic changes since Einstein's day, and Hulit's has seen trends come and go. One that seems here to stay is the public's demand for comfortable footwear.
Comfort as an issue has been around for 15 years, reports Mr. Simone, and it is evidenced in the big selection of walking shoes, athletic shoes of all kinds, clogs, sandals, and dress shoes with comfort features.
"Comfort is the biggest change I've seen," he says. "A lot of people started wearing sneakers, and then the shoe companies began to make comfort shoes that felt like sneakers, so there was an alternative.
"The idea of comfort was in all areas of dress, not just shoes," he adds. "When I first worked here, we always wore jackets and ties. It's much more informal today.
"Also," he continues, "as comfort evolved in the society, some shoe brands disappeared. Many American factories closed, and there is more European influence in shoes today."
Customers will have no problem finding a comfortable fit at Hulit's. A full range of styles and brands in all categories is available for men, women, and children of all ages.
There is a colorful array of children's shoes for infants, toddlers and up, including the flexible footwear that helps the foot to develop properly.
For spring and summer, color is key, especially in women's and children's shoes," says Mr. Simone.
"A new division of Clarks, Indigo, has sandals in a lot of bright colors, including flats and heels. These are very popular, fun sandals. Clarks has a lot of color and style, and are exclusive to Hulit's in the area.
"All kinds of patterns and designs are also seen in kids' shoes today," he adds.
Sandals have been a big item for April and May, and all colors are popular. Clogs continue to be in demand, especially for women, but many men wear them as well.
Dansko is a favorite line for clogs, sandals, and shoes, and Teva sandals are a very popular new spring choice. Thong sandals from Teva and Clarks are especially hot, and four sales persons at Hulit's were seen wearing them on a recent Tuesday.
Comfort extends to dress shoes for men and women, points out Mr. Simone. "BeautiFeel comfort dress shoes from Israel are offered in many styles today, and there is a variety of dress shoes for men, including the traditional Johnston & Murphy line. Even they have more comfort features, such as more padding in the inner soles."
On the more informal side, Ecco offers casual comfort shoes for men, as does Josef Seibel "The European Comfort Shoe". Timberland is always popular, and SAS is particularly suited for the wider foot.
Timberland and Topsider boat shoes have resurfaced, both for men and women. Another come-back is the famous Earth shoe, with its "negative" heel, also for men and women.
Choices for children are more abundant then ever. "Sandals for girls are very popular, and there are lots with little flowers and designs," reports Mr. Simone. "Lots and lots of color, including in slip-ons, is big this season."
The Primigi line from Italy is popular for kids, as is UMI, a new brand, run by the same group that formerly operated Elefanten, now discontinued.
Athletic shoes of all kinds, especially Geox with "breathable" soles, are favorites with boys, who also like Teva sandals, and moccasins. Beaded moccasins are back again, and in lots of colors for girls.
Hulit's has a wide price range, and offers two annual sales, as well as many weekend specials.
With 1800 shoes on display, the store has something for everyone (including the stylish stilleto heels with sharply pointed toes).
"We go to six or seven shows a year, all over the country to see new styles and trends in footwear," notes Mr. Simone, who is aware of his clientele's preferences, but adds, "Sometimes you have to take a chance. You never really know what will be popular. Sometimes, things you think will be a hit aren't, and others you didn't expect to be, really take off. You never know."
He is very happy his son Ryan has joined the staff, and "I look forward to seeing Hulit's continue as a family business. There aren't many stores like ours anymore. This kind of family-operated shoe store, with shoes for the whole family, is becoming a rarity.
"We offer a lot of personal attention we stress service and a friendly face. We just want to help people get the shoes they want. I think people like the way they are treated here."
Hulit's is open Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday 9:30 to 6; Thursday until 7; Saturday until 5:30; Sunday 12 to 4. 609-924-1952.