Address: 125 W. Maple St., Lancaster, Wis.
Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday
Online: facebook.com/WalkersClothingandShoes and cruisinkids.com
LANCASTER, Wis. — Steve Walker measures the size and scope of the store his grandfather co-founded 94 years ago by referencing the business’ estimated 20,000 pairs of shoes.
“There are more shoes in here than there are feet in Lancaster,” Walker said.
Lancaster boasts about 3,725 people. The 20,000-square-foot store, now named Cruisin’ Kids/Walker’s Clothing and Shoes, sits on the north side of Lancaster’s city square and has spent the past 90 years evolving and expanding, growing from a small-town men’s clothing shop into a clothing and shoe retailer drawing customers from 100 miles away.
The store’s current owner, former employee Karri Schauff, aims to sustain the retailer’s tradition.
“It’s a well-established business and was a family business, and family and hometown are important to me,” Schauff said.
Steve Walker’s grandfather Glen “Crow” Walker launched the store, named Walker & Seipp, with his friend LeRoy Seipp in 1928.
“The original store was across the street in what (currently) is called The Meat Schoppe,” said Steve Walker, 61. “It started as just a men’s clothing store.”
The store moved to its current location on West Maple Street in 1935.
“It was 2,500 square feet, and it was Walker & Seipp then as well,” Walker said. “LeRoy Seipp passed away at a young age, and then, my grandfather passed away in 1960 at age 57.”
Steve Walker’s dad, John D. Walker, had worked in the store since the early 1950s. John Walker became the store’s owner upon the death of his father. Third-generation owner Steve Walker worked at the store, too.
“I was working here on and off through high school,” he said. “When I graduated from high school, I was attending (University of Wisconsin)-Platteville briefly when I became ill with appendicitis.”
That illness in August 1979 forced Walker to take a semester off school.
“I came home and recuperated,” Walker said. “Then I worked in the store here with my dad and my brother, Jeff, and a gentleman named Dick Becker. Dick Becker was here from 1975 until 2021. He was a sales clerk, which meant he did everything.”
Jeff Walker left to enter the insurance business in 1979.
“It just worked out that my brother left and I came in,” Steve Walker said. “I was going to go back to college in the second semester, and my dad had thrown the idea out there — ‘Do you like it here (at the store)?’ I did like it here. So that’s the history. I purchased the store in 1990. My dad stayed on for two years, and then he retired. He passed away in February 2019.”
John and Steve Walker both oversaw the growth of the store, an expansion in both physical size and variety of inventory.
“The first expansion, when it went from 2,500 square feet to 6,000 square feet, was in 1982,” Steve Walker said. “We went into an adjoining building.”
A pair of shoe stores closed in Lancaster in 1981, and Walker’s added shoes to its inventory. The store’s next expansion occurred in 1992, with the addition of 12,000 square feet and a greater emphasis on footwear.
“We had dabbled in shoes, and then it just blew up,” Steve Walker said.
The larger shoe inventory drew customers from a wider geographic area.
“Had we not made the expansion in 1992, I don’t think we’d still be here,” Walker said. “Our geographic draw just blew up because of the shoes. We went from an inventory of 1,200 pairs of shoes in 1990 to over 20,000 pairs of shoes in 2019. That encompasses men’s, women’s and children’s shoes, all the way from casual to athletic to dress.”
The shoe business increased, and the store ventured into women’s clothing in 1994.
“(Business) just kept building and building,” Walker said.
Schauff, 38, is a Lancaster native who would come to the store growing up. She worked at the store from 2005 to 2013.
At the time, Walker’s had two children’s clothing stores, in Lancaster and Prairie du Chien.
“It was just so much work having three (storefronts),” Steve Walker said. “In 2011, we closed the one in Prairie du Chien, and in 2013, we closed the one here.”
Schauff didn’t want Lancaster to go without a children’s clothing store, so she opened Cruisin’ Kids, in 2013.
Steve Walker decided to sell the adult clothing and shoe store to Schauff in April 2021.
“The timing was right,” he said. “The opportunity presented itself, and there was an interested party in Karri, who had the knowledge and the work ethic.”
Schauff then moved Cruisin’ Kids from its location at 121 N. Madison St. to a space within the Walker’s location.
Walker maintains a presence at the store.
“I still do suit fittings, and I do custom suits,” he said. “But the store is really run by Karri and her staff.”
Schauff said her future plans for the store include sustaining its legacy and its large customer base.
“We draw customers from Dubuque, La Crosse and Madison. It’s a 100-mile radius,” Schauff said. “The local support is great, and the support from 100 miles away is very important.”