At 99, Chiappetta Shoes finds new way to serve customers but fears longer shutdown

Surviving through 99 years, Chiappetta Shoes has weathered the storm of adversity.

Through the Great Depression, some recessions and other traumatic events, the award-winning, nationally recognized Kenosha shoe company that specializes in orthotics has walked away from many traumatic economic events successfully.

Now, faced with the economically crippling COVID-19 pandemic, Chiappetta Shoes, 6821 39th Ave., was hit again when Gov. Tony Evers last week extended the Safer-at-Home order for another month, through May 26.

“As a small business, I’m really upset,” Chiappetta Shoes CEO Tony Chiappetta said. “When you look at America, we’re really not built for this.”

Extending the Safer-at-Home order past April 24 to May 26 hurts small businesses even more now.

Lou Molitor, president and CEO of the Kenosha County Chamber of Commerce, was among the business leaders who had expressed concerns if the governor’s order was extended.

“Every day past the 24th will take a toll,” Molitor said. “I’m concerned that a lot of small businesses would be struggling.”

And it already has taken a toll. Shortly before the extension was announced, Chiappetta estimated that sales were down by 80 percent compared with last year.

Prior to the pandemic, Chiappetta had forecast an increase based on the expansion of services and new product lines.

While he realizes the significant health impact the coronavirus has had, Chiappetta said he believes it has become an even more devastating crisis for businesses.

“The Safe at Home was supposed to be for the healthcare system to get ready,” he said.

Chiappetta now believes this is becoming a political issue that is somehow going past its original intent.

“We have to live life like this? It creates a confusion. We can’t just hide at home. I’m worried as a society we can’t hide at home all day,” he said.

Meanwhile, Chiappetta Shoes is diversifying and re-inventing itself a bit.

“As a business, I’m reaching out to our customers,” Chiappetta said. “We can do what we need to do and take precautions.”

Earlier this month, Chiappetta Shoes had to lay off some of its sales staff in keeping with the Safer-at-Home order. However, some Chiappetta marketing employees began calling the store’s long list of orthotic customers.

While the calls were partly to offer reassurance to longtime customers, they also served as a wellness check and an opportunity to offer those customers a chance to take advantage of a 50 percent discount on orthopedic shoes.

“We first wondered how we could maintain. Then I got the idea from a friend in South Dakota,” Chiappetta said. “As an essential business, we can help customers with orthotic needs. We have molds on record. We sent out Facebook messages, called people.”

Chiappetta began running a discount special for people who could drop off or bring in their shoe inserts for a 30-minute visit while taking safety precautions.

“We were limiting our exposure,” Chiappetta said. “Sales reps were making the calls and doing wellness checks.”

More than 150 customers took up the offer, and the promotion has been extended.

Additionally, Chiappetta Shoes is working with nurses and people who need work boots by appointment.

“We had a couple nurses reach out to us and say their feet were hurting from all that they have been doing,” Chiappetta said. “We’re wearing masks as we measure their feet.”

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