Written by Kerrie Alexander
EACH time Bill Langer opens the doors to his Maryborough business, it’s not just to let the customers in.
It’s about walking in the shoes of his grandfather and father, literally, who spent their life building the much-loved and respected Langers Broadway Shoe Store on Adelaide St in Maryborough which first opened 95 years ago.
As I sat down to chat with the pure gentleman that is Bill Langer, his softly spoken voice tells me that at 71 years young, he still works Monday to Saturday, and even some Sunday’s when the store is closed.
A work ethic that is seldom today.
In April next year, he will have served the Maryborough community for 50 years.
He says it’s the joy he gets of out helping his customers to find their perfect fit that keeps his body moving and his mind sharp, especially with long-time customers who have become like family.
“Quite a few of the customers that are coming in now … their families used to come in with mum and dad,” Bill said.
“I’ve made some very good friends over the years, that’s for sure.”
During the Coronavirus pandemic, Bill said one of the biggest difficulties his team faced was not being able to offer the same old-fashioned customer service people are customary to.
“I love seeing the customers and knowing the customers and that’s the main part of it,” Bill said
“With this Covid business we have been missing not being able to get down and serve the people … we just have to hand the shoe to them, and they fit them themselves.
“We’ve really been missing being able to offer that personalised service.”
Sitting on the fitting chairs, you can almost feel the incredibly rich history made by the three generations of Langers.
When it’s quiet or he needs to take a break, Bill will take a seat out in the back room at the pine desk that was crafted by his grandfather, Henry William.
He tells the story of how his grandfather came from small beginnings by opening a shoe retail store in the Royal Hotel and later buying the building where the business is still located today.
The familiar smell of leather is always comforting to Bill.
“My grandfather bought this building and it’s been the same for 95 years,”
Bill said with a proud smile.
The thick pine shelves that run around the length of the store and stocked ceiling-to-wall with shoes were built by Henry and were often used by a young Bill to run his toy cars up and down on while in the shop with his father.
When Bill’s father, also Henry, and his mother Edna took over the store in the late 40s, Bill would lend a hand after school and on weekends, earning about 5 shillings for pocket money.
After finishing school, he later went on to work in a local hardware store for five years but decided at 21 that it was time to continue the family tradition.
“I just wanted to help my mother and father out.”
He carried on running the business for many years with his adored wife Joan Noelene Langer, who stayed by his side and shared his passion and vision for the business until she passed away a few years ago.
At the front counter you will meet long-time staff Dianne Stevens who started work at the store back in the 80s, and Valmai, whom Bill can’t talk highly enough of.
Along with his keen eye for business, what some might know about Bill is that he is a master wood worker, and in his down time he can be found out the back of the store crafting pens, cheese knives and cake servers on the lathe, which are sold at Australiana Cottage Craft and Herb Farm in Takura.
He has also been the president of the Granville Indoor Bowls Club for the last 40 years.
While the Langer business is certainly rich in history, Bill has also kept the business moving with the times by stocking the latest fashions and has embraced the sales of specialty orthotics.
Customers travel from around Queensland to shop at the independently owned shoe store, which stocks Australian-made socks and work boots, as well as orthotic shoes and sandals from Portugal, Vietnam and Indonesia.
“We cater for the comfort area of people and we get people from Hervey Bay, Maryborough, Bundaberg, Gympie and quite a few people from Brisbane come on holidays hoping we are still here.
“In Brisbane, there’s no independent shops.
“I have loved being here to serve the people and a few years ago I made the decision to help people be more comfortable with orthotics and we are now a podiatry recommended store.”
It’s this business nous that has seen the Langer family survive a World War, the Great Depression, recessions and the Coronavirus Pandemic.
There are also many local business awards in the back room that pays homage to the excellent customer service the people of the Fraser Coast have come to know and love.
While there are no children to keep the family business going, Bill hopes to be in good enough health to celebrate a century of the proud Langer name.
If his determination and passion for his business is anything to go by, I would happily place a bet to say Bill will be there to celebrate the milestone in five years’ time.
Congratulations to Bill and the team for 95 years of proud history!