So many times we've passed this building on N. Pearl Street in downtown Albany and admired the facade -- the way it frames the windows, the floral adornments placed along the border, even the straightforward typography of the above the entryway.
And pretty much every time we've walked by this place, we've wondered: What is the John. W. Emery Inc.?
This week we finally decided to find out.
John W. Emery was the owner of a chain of shoe stores around the Capital Region at the start of the 20th century. This 1916 obituary from the Boot and Shoe Record is a quick recap of his career:
John W. Emery, the well known Albany, N.Y. shoe merchant died at the Homeopathic Hospital, January 24th, after an illness of about three weeks, at the age of 59. Mr. Emery operated five shoe stores, two in Albany, and stores in Schenectady, Cohoes, and Saratoga.
Born in Kennebunkport, Maine in October 1856, as a young man he went to Boston and from there to Troy, where he lived twelve years before going to Albany eighteen years ago to open a shoe store at 138 North Pearl Street. To his persistent energy, unfailing fairness and wide knowledge of the trade is attributed his success.
Mr Emery was a trustee of the Calvary Methodist Church, Albany, from its inception; a director of the Albany County Bank; a governor of the Homeopathic Hospital, a director of the Y.M.C.A., and a prominent member of the Chamber of Commerce. He is survived by a widow, a daughter and two sons, one of whom, Wesley, was identified with him in the store.
Emery bought shoe stores in Albany, Schenectady, and Saratoga Springs from another shoe chain, S. B. Thing & Co., in 1898, according to a note in Boot and Shoe Record.
An 1898 ad in the Altamont Enterprise touts "John W. Emery's Large Double Shoe Stores, 85 and 87 North Pearl St" and "specials in warm shoes for cold feet at Emery's, the Albany Shoe Hustler..."
clipped from NYS Historic Newspapers archive
Below is a 1927 photo of the 54 N. Pearl Street location from the Albany Public Library History Collection, which shows the store in operation (at that link you can zoom in to see the window displays) and the building in much better condition. (It looks like there were offices for an accounting firm on the upper floors.) The building dates to 1920, according to city tax records.
During his life, Emery and his family lived in Pine Hills on Western Ave, not far from where the street converges with Madison Ave. At some point after his death, it looks his family moved around the corner to West Lawrence Street, according to city directories. The family also had a summer home in Lake George.
The Emerys had another son, Samuel, who had also worked in the family shoe business. He died three years before his father, just a year after graduating from Williams, from injuries sustained during a fall from a horse.
After John W.'s death in 1916, Wesley Emery announced the business would continue as it had. Or as it was stated in Boot and Shoe Record, "practically the same management will obtain, and that the policies at the root of the firm's success will be continued without change."
We couldn't find a record of when the shoe store closed. (Maybe you know and can share.)
At some point along the way, the lower portion of the building's front was replaced, taking out the display windows.
The building is now vacant. (There was a pigeon walking around inside when we peered through the windows last week.) And it's for sale.
John W. Emery Inc. building
54 N. Pearl Street
Albany, NY 12207
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