Red Wing Shoes

 

No doubt about it, Red Wing’s been richly blessed. First off, it’s a top-tier Minnesota getaway destination with a well-rounded set of amenities, including the old reliable Mississippi and its striking, hikable bluffs, a paved bike trail, a glut of antiques stores, a couple of local wineries, a casino, and more.

But Red Wing also doubles as an eponymous, globally recognizable brand, twice over, with evidence of its heritage namesakes all over town. Look for Red Wing Pottery & Stoneware on antiques store shelves, in a small-scale Red Wing Stoneware tour, and at the new Red Wing Pottery Museum, which displays more than 6,000 artifacts from the company’s past. And the Red Wing Shoe Company’s goods not only grace many a resident’s foot, but their manufacture can be seen firsthand on Friday morning factory tours.

Photo by Andy Richter

The company doesn’t take tour reservations, and there’s no information on its website. Just show up at Plant 2 and mill about the star-spangled boot sculpture with the unsure others until the door unlocks at tour time. Safety glasses and headsets are doled out, and everyone moves en masse to a little conference room lined in various styles of Red Wing boots.

Cue a 10-minute video, which explains that Red Wing started 109 years ago when shoe seller Charles Beckman noticed that farmers, for example, really needed manure-proof boots while blacksmiths wanted footwear impervious to stray embers. He set out to provide long-lasting work boots, customized to the day’s trades. That mission still stands today. Red Wing now makes more than two million boots a year, sold in more than 100 countries worldwide.

Photo by Andy Richter

One impressive video factoid—120 steps, performed by hand, typically go into every pair of Red Wings—comes to life as you head out onto the factory floor to watch worker after worker glue, stitch, stretch, seal, buff, and otherwise manipulate the small leather flaps of a soon-to-be boot. The guide grabs examples in varying stages of assembly off workstations along the way, lending insight into each job. The cutters, she says, “read” hides in a flash, then strategically place their cookie cutter–like dies to minimize waste, appropriately use stretchy and strong sections, and position scars, brand marks, and bug bites either hidden on a seam or highlighted on a toe. And would you believe a boot’s eyelet locations are simply eyeballed? By the time you trade your headset for a keychain made from scrap leather, you can see why these boots have endured.

Photo by Andy Richter

The Red Wing Flagship Store, Factory Outlet & Museum, a couple miles away on Main Street, is worth a stop, if only to grab a photo with The World’s Largest Boot right inside the front doors. Upstairs, in the little lofted museum, see handwritten personal stories of boots that survived snake pits and 50 years of farming, plus a manageable amount of history, artifacts, and trivia. And if you’re going to buy boots, well, here you go.

Red Wing Shoe Company factory tours typically happen non-holiday Fridays at 10 a.m., May through October. Simply show up at Plant 2, off Highway 61; no reservation required. Tour-goers must wear closed-toe shoes.

redwing.org

 


 

 

Where to stay

 

The St. James Hotel has all the charm of a historic hotel, with unique rooms, antiques, and handmade quilts, plus modern amenities, including cable and wi-fi.
st-james-hotel.com

 

 

Photo by Andy Richter

Where to eat

The reborn 1951 Red Wing Brewery makes delicious pizzas, with chewy-crunchy crusts from brewing grains, and beers from original, historical recipes.
redwingbrewing.com

 


Web Extra: See how boots are built at Red Wing


 

 

 

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Berit Thorkelson, a longtime freelance writer specializing in home and travel topics, is basically a professional adventuring snoopy person. Her own interior style tends towards the eclectic and original—a salvaged church cabinet and a pair of checkout-lane lamps grace her own living area. She always wants the extended version of your home tour.