The differing ways Cathy Swearengin and Mallory Pittman got involved with Plaza Shoe Store are a reflection of the moments in time across the 67-year run of their family business.
Swearengin was, for lack of a better word, shoehorned in. She was working at women’s-only store Norene’s, named after her grandmother. Norene’s opened in 1982, and it became a part of her life in the form of an expectation of carrying on a family tradition. In 2004, she and her brother Tim, who was running the business, combined Norene’s with the family’s flagship store, Plaza Shoe Store. Swearengin assumed control in 2007.
Swearengin’s daughter, Pittman, initially started working at the store under similar circumstances. There wasn’t really a time when she wasn’t at the store. She was working at the store in college, too, but her focus then wasn’t solely on the business as she worked toward her degree in political science. She even entered grad school to pursue her master’s. But the pull of the store kept weighing on her. The fact that it was eventually her decision to return to the store was important to her. “I wanted it to be a choice,” Pittman says. “I wanted to choose to be here.”
Since 2012, that’s how it’s been—mother, daughter and right-hand man Garon Todd, who has worked at the store for 14 years. The trio runs Plaza Shoe Store, each with undefined and defined responsibilities and each working together to keep alive a store entwined with the family.
As the story goes, when Norene’s son Bob married, Norene went to visit her in-laws, who owned a shoe store of their own in Eldon. Norene decided that she’d like to own a store, too, and opened Plaza Shoe Store in 1951. Norene’s opened around 30 years later, as the family expanded its empire in the Battlefield Mall. Plaza’s original location on Glenstone Avenue and Sunshine Street remained until 2007, when Swearengin moved it into the Brentwood Shopping Center. Now, the business is set to expand again, moving next door to house more inventory. It’s a move predicated by the family’s success at a store that is smaller than its original location was.