Encyclopedia Of Detroit

R.H. Fyfe & Co.

Richard Henry Fyfe founded his shoe company in 1865 at age 26, moving his store several times along Woodward Avenue. In 1919, his new “Temple of Shoes” opened at West Adams Avenue and Woodward. Famed Detroit architects Smith, Hinchman and Grylls designed a neo-gothic emporium that encompassed ten floors, four mezzanines, and two basements, making Fyfe’s the world’s largest retail shoe store. It also had the moniker of “Shoe Skyscraper.”

Fyfe’s store elevated the typical shoe shopping experience. It offered a children’s barbershop and playroom, a shoe repair and shine salon, and an in-house chiropodist (foot and shoe specialist). The store also housed a putting green and battery of driving courts for golfers on the fifth floor, later made into an auditorium for employee meetings. A professional golfer was on hand to provide lessons by appointment, at a rate of $1.50 for 30 minutes or seven lessons for $40.

The entire basement level was stocked with women’s shoes. Men’s shoes were located on the first floor, based on the assumption that male shoppers would not travel to another floor to make a purchase. In the mid 1950s, the store added women’s hats and larger shoe sizes for both men and women.

Fyfe’s was one of the first retailers to sell rubber boots and became one of the United States Rubber Company’s best customers.

At its peak, around 1950, the store employed 150 associates and maintained 100,000 pairs of shoes in stock. Fyfe’s export department shipped hundreds of pairs of shoes daily to all parts of the globe.

Lack of a suburban presence, because of Fyfe’s loyalty to Detroit, along with customers’ changing shopping habits doomed Fyfe’s, forcing the company into bankruptcy. The landmark store on Grand Circus Park closed in 1971. Shortly after it was converted into an apartment building with 65 units and retail on the street level, and today finds itself in the heart of Detroit’s entertainment district.



Interior of the R.H. Fyfe and Company first floor, 1907 - 2012.020.220

R.H. Fyfe and Company Building, 1923 - 2011.036.126

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