On Corporation Road, shoes and warm service have greeted thousands from around the town
You will struggle to find a person from Middlesbrough that hasn’t set foot inside Charles Clinkard’s shoe shop on Corporation Road.
It’s an institution, kitting out generations of children, parents and grandparents in the town for almost 100 years.
A national success story with 39 branches as far away as Jersey and Exeter, the business headquarters are still based right here in Middlesbrough.
And it is fitting – pardon the pun – that its original shop in the centre of town still has Middlesbrough at its heart.
Leeann Watson, the branch assistant manager, began her career at Clinkard’s in 1999.
The Linthorpe mum-of-two has served thousands of customers from across the town in her two decades with the company.
“It’s a great job. You can deal with anyone on a daily basis – all different types of customers.
“We have regulars, and I think it’s the customer service that we’re best known for.”
The summer holidays are still the busiest period for the business – with staff measuring how much sprouting kids’ feet have grown over the year, and finding the perfect pair of back to school shoes.
It’s a memory many in the town will share, and Leeann has fitted her fair share.
“It does get hectic, but we’ve got a really good team here. We look out for each other, get our head down, and get through the day. Someone will bring in a load of ice creams and we enjoy it.”
Founded in 1924, Charles Clinkard is still a family business, with its headquarters nearby in the town centre.
And there’s another tradition that spells out its approach to customer service.
“When a baby comes in for their first pair of shoes, we always take a photograph of them in the shop and the parents take that away as well,” Leeann, who went to Sacred Heart and St David’s School in the town, continues.
“When you think, we’ve probably had grandparents who’ve been in as children, then came with their kids and now their grandchildren are getting first shoes here.”
Covid restrictions have been difficult for every business in Middlesbrough, and Clinkards has been affected like everyone else.
“Footfall has been hit massively,” continued Leeann, 40. “And we’ve seen a lot of lockdown babies coming in to be fitted, and they’re very shy as they’re just not used to people.
“You can buy things online now if you want to, but I think people still enjoy seeing what they’re buying, asking for advice, a lot of people come in just for a chat.
“I think that’s a North-east thing, a Middlesbrough thing, that sense of community.”
We are words – Mike Brown
We are photographs – Mike Sreenan