Meet Aurora Shoe Co. Founder, Mary Jane Dann

If you have had the pleasure of meeting  Mary Jane (or MJ as she’s known around here) then you know she’s an eclectic woman.   When I met with MJ to collect information for this post, she was open and friendly and willing to share way more information than I could ever fit into one cohesive story.   Suffice it to say that the Aurora Shoe Company has come to where it is today through many personal connections, a few professional ones and a lot of positive lip service.   Add to that 20 years of dedicated hard work, and you’ll see why MJ’s life still revolves around this small shoe company that she started all those years ago.
MJ’s step into the shoe business dates back to the 1980s when she worked at the ski school at Greek Peak, a small resort about an hour south of Aurora.  MJ worked with the wife of George Shurman, owner of a leather goods store in Ithaca.  When George left for a new life in New Mexico he coaxed MJ off the slopes and into a management position in his store.  One thing led to another and after a few years, MJ and George decided to create a new venture, this time producing handmade leather shoes based on purchased patterns from a Michigan shoe maker.  George was able to put his Cornell Anthropology education to work designing simple machinery, streamlining the shoemaking process just enough to make it a profitable proposition.  MJ worked on finding a location and says she was lured to Aurora by her Wells Alumnae friends (the lake views, local wineries and sunsets might have had a bit of pull too).
In 1991 MJ moved into the area and the Aurora Shoe Company was up and running in the 3rd story of an old school, now known as the Heary Building, on Main Street in Aurora.  The operation had three employees, MJ and Bill being two of them.  Aurora Shoes enjoyed quick popularity in the local area thanks to Wells College students and the local community.   People enjoyed the simple styling and the comfort and felt good about supporting such a local and high quality handmade product .   When the Wells women wore their shoes home, other communities became aware of them and the following grew.  This awareness spread throughout the US and caught the eye of a boutique owner in Japan who continues to buy shoes for distribution in Japan today.  By the late 1990s demand  had grown to a point where a larger production space was desperately needed.
In 1997 MJ made the decision to move the Aurora Shoe Company to its current location, just a few miles south of the village of Aurora.  The new location offered lots of space, room for new employees,  space for the shop pets to roam and a nice new perk - off street parking.  She was able to increase her staff to a total of 8 employees including herself and the company has retained a staff of the same size ever since. 
Over the years the Aurora Shoe company has seen several people come and go, including MJ’s daughter, Cassie who enjoyed contributing to the family business for a couple of years after her own Wells College graduation.  MJ sold the company to Dave a year and a half ago, but she has chosen to stay on, providing continuity, stability, quality control and a good dose of sarcastic humor.  The “mother” of the group, she’s also been personally responsible for keeping the shop pets fed and happy and for supplying the seasonal and holiday cheer.  She’s quirky and fun, but also straightforward and sincere - all qualities that have infused themselves into the Aurora Shoe Company under MJ’s management.   If you ask MJ, she’ll tell you she’s in no rush to retire.  She loves the local area and is saving up for her “year-long world tour”.  She won’t say when or where she’s going after her time here is up,  but knowing MJ, it’s sure to be an adventure! 

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Photography by Erin Little , Ginny Sheller , Katherine Huysman .

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