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The view from the rooftop of the Red Wing Shoe Co. executive offices is a panorama that draws international visitors for a good reason: you can watch the Mississippi River, with its barges and busy marina, or marvel at a town—and a company—that seem like a perfect balance of hip style and workingclass roots.
Given its riverside location, historic charm and brisk tourist business, Red Wing is sometimes compared to Stillwater, but the two are distinctly different in personality. Upscale Stillwater boasts chic stores and restaurants, with a country club at its northern end, and leisure crafts skimming along its St. Croix edge.
While Red Wing has a few of those fashionable elements, like a yoga studio and boutiques, most of the town is pure blue-collar. Geared toward locals, some downtown businesses have been around for almost a century, not just decades.
With its much-loved bakery, ma-and-pa hardware store, diner-type cafes, and simple flower shop, Red Wing is a place that so typifies the world's idea of small-town Americana that it draws tourists from around the globe, and many of them end up on that shoe company roof deck. "For our international guests, this place is like a Disneyland of middle America, it's everything they've heard about," says Mark Urdahl, the company's senior vice president.
Red Wing Shoe and the town are so intertwined that it seems unthinkable to pry them apart. Many residents have either worked at the company, which locals call "The Shoe," or have a family member who has. If the company were to pack up and relocate to St. Louis or Mexico City or Hong Kong, it would likely have to change its name, because the link between The Shoe and Red Wing is so strong that they share a connection far beyond property and employees.
Urdahl says, "For those in the community, Red Wing Shoe typifies what the town is all about, like stability, hard work and pride. The company and the town need each other—there's a bond there, a relationship that's definitely unique."
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