A Shoe for Every Foot
How Lafayette Hill entrepreneur Robert Klausman brightens the lives of women in need
by Bill Donahue


In more ways than one, Robert Klausman is quite literally following in the footsteps of his forebears.


“When I was a kid, my family would drive into Philly on Christmas and Easter and visit elderly people who were shut in,” says Klausman, third-generation owner of Shoe Bar, the family retail business now based solely in Lafayette Hill. “You’d wake up at 7 a.m., get in the truck … and spend a few hours with two or three elderly people who you didn’t know. It was a great experience, and that’s what got me started in charity work.”


He has since expanded the purpose of his family’s 30-year-old store beyond simply selling stylish pumps, boots and flats bearing the world’s top brand names: Through partnerships with key suppliers, he teams with local customers, philanthropic groups and other likeminded contacts to improve the lives of the less fortunate.


Today his as-yet-unnamed foundation helps an ever-growing list of church parishes, women’s groups, etc., whose mission is to help troubled women get back on their feet—in part by improving their self-esteem with the aid of free runway-worthy shoes, no questions asked. An Israeli footwear company, Naot, helped Klausman start this new chapter in his philanthropic life by arming him with excess shoes he could then, in turn, donate to those in the surrounding community.


“We’re a for-profit business, but our door is always open to give shoes away,” he says. “We’re steadily growing from baby steps to giant steps. For the right people and the right organizations, we’re only a phone call away. … There are no strings attached, and whatever comes from it comes from it.”


Two other prominent women’s footwear brands—J. Reneé and Me Too—have since come aboard to support Klausman’s efforts. Since beginning the foundation six years ago, he has given away an estimated 6,000 pairs of shoes, each pair valued at $95 to $280. He previously did large giveaways at church gatherings and other events but has since put in place stricter controls to make sure each pair of shoes goes to a specific recipient who is truly in need.


“We had one bad experience where we took 600 pairs of shoes to [an event] … and it was a bummer because it was almost like a shoe giveaway to some people who weren’t really needy,” he says. “We gave everyone there a pair of shoes, but we learned from our mistakes. Now we’ve brought it down to a shoe for a foot, doing 10 to 15 pairs per customer or per organization for people who we know need them.”


A Wide Footprint

Klausman’s family has a rich history in retail. The Klausmans once ran seven Shoe Bars, from the Main Line to Trenton, N.J., and many patrons of the since-shuttered stores still shop at the Lafayette Hill location. Thanks to relationships he has forged with long-tenured customers and others, donated shoes that originated from his store have brightened the lives of women in places as far away as Africa, South America and parts of the Caribbean.


“Through Robert and his dedication and his concern for struggling people, we have helped a lot of people,” says Bishop George A. Williams, founder and pastor of the Rehoboth Church of God and Christ in Elkins Park. “He would give us loads of shoes and we would give them out to people in the area. … Through a connection with another preacher who has a ministry in Africa, we also ship a lot of clothing and shoes to Africa. They’ve been a great blessing to our endeavor.”


Likewise, Reverend Roland Anderson II, pastor of Second Baptist Church in Pottstown, traveled to Colombia earlier this year, accompanied by a suitcase stocked with nearly 30 pairs of new shoes, courtesy of Klausman’s foundation. (“Customs almost didn’t allow me in the country,” he says. “The shoes were so nice that they thought I was trying to sell them there.”) He brought nearly three times as many on another trip to the Dominican Republic, distributing the shoes to the country’s Haitian population, which, according to him, “is at the lowest rung of society.”


“People who were walking around barefoot now have a beautiful pair of shoes to go to church with on Sunday,” says Anderson, who has been friends with Klausman since they were children. “If more people had [Klausman’s] type of heart, there would be a lot less suffering in the community.”


Although Klausman’s foundation has helped women across the globe, its main thrust is making a difference in the lives of those close to home. Many local recipients of Klausman’s generosity discover a newfound sense of confidence and self-esteem, according to Valerie Hines, owner and founder of the Umbrella Program Foundation, an Elkins Park-based firm whose goal is to improve the quality of life for locals who struggle with personal or financial hardships.


“Robert gave us a donation of shoes, and the pictures we have of women opening the boxes are amazing,” says Hines, whose firm helps as many as 5,000 people per year. “A lot of the women we work with are in the midst of a storm. Something as simple as new shoes that are the right size and not used are making a big impact on how women feel about themselves.”


Klausman invites other organizations and individuals to get involved with his foundation. “The ball keeps rolling bigger and bigger; the more shoes we can move, the more donated shoes [he receives]—and that means the more people we can help,” he says. “I’m just happy to be in a position to help people; it’s been a blessing to me most of all.”


Rob Hall is a photographer based in Plumsteadville.