Black Earth flood recovery (copy)

Work boots dry in the parking lot of The Shoe Box in Black Earth last week. The store reopened Tuesday. A tent sale selling some of the slightly water-damaged shoes began Thursday. 

Since 1967, Black Earth’s iconic shoe store, The Shoe Box, has shuttered only on three holidays each year — Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter.

But for the first time in its 51-year history, The Shoe Box closed on a non-holiday — and remained closed for seven days — because of a record rainfall that dumped a foot or more of rain onto parts of western Dane County last week.

On Tuesday the store, which touts itself as the “largest shoe store in the Midwest,” reopened.

Shoe Box flooding

Flood waters surround The Shoe Box on Aug. 21. The storm caused the store to shut down for a week.

“We’re trying to dry out,” owner Steve Schmitt said. “We’ve lost a lot. But we’re fine. The sun’s shining. I’m thankful for all of the employees and town people that have come to help.”

It’s been a long week for Schmitt and his employees.

Schmitt arrived to his storm-damaged store around 5 a.m. last Tuesday. He had left his home hours earlier when he heard on a police scanner that firetrucks were headed to Black Earth. He said it took him several hours to get to the store because a “small river” surrounded it, so he parked farther away.

“I had to hang on to houses and trees to get there,” he said.

Shoe Box Drying Out

Shoes are piled outside The Shoe Box in Black Earth last week to dry out from the record rainfall and flooding.

Ugg boots and Nike shoes drifted through the store like toy boats in a bathtub with about an inch of standing water. Out came the Shop-Vacs and dehumidifiers to suck up the moisture in his five warehouses, which had seen 3 feet of water.

Some furnaces, air conditioners and lots of footwear were damaged. Schmitt’s sports memorabilia, locked up in a warehouse at the time of the storm, was washed away.

Black Earth flood recovery (copy)

Thousands of pairs of shoes dry in the sun last week at The Shoe Box in Black Earth where floodwaters from nearby Black Earth Creek inundated the Dane County village.

Schmitt said he hasn’t had time to tally the total loss but said it was “pretty substantial.”

About 10 percent of the store’s inventory — roughly 75,000 of the 600,000 to 700,000 pairs in stock — were damaged in the flood.

The store started a tent sale Thursday where shoes are being sold for at least 50 percent off their original price.

ShoeBox Tent Sale

The Shoe Box, a Black Earth store selling footwear, kicked off what may be a monthslong tent sale to clear out inventory that was damaged in the flood last week. 

Schmitt, who also owns the Madison Mallards baseball team, compared the line Thursday to the line of fans waiting to get into a Mallards game.

The tent sale will be open for at least a couple of months, weather permitting.

“We’ve got a lot to sell,” Schmitt said. “Great prices and they’re ready to go.”

The weeklong closure occurred during back-to-school season.

“We probably lost our busiest week of the year, but whatever. It could be worse,” he said, adding that no one was injured. “It’s a big setback but it will make us tougher.”

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Kelly Meyerhofer covers higher education for the Wisconsin State Journal. She can be reached at 608-252-6106 or kmeyerhofer@madison.com.