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In Memory: Richard Wirick, Owner of The Oxford Shop, aka “Mr. Downtown”

My heart broke yesterday when I heard the sad news that Richard Wirick, owner of The Oxford Shop, had died after a UTA bus hit him while crossing a busy downtown intersection. Wirick was 82 years old and had owned The Oxford Shop, a men’s shoe store in downtown Salt Lake City, for 50-plus years. He was affectionately known as “Mr. Downtwon” because of his love of SLC and his desire to see the city grow and flourish.

Richard Wirick, owner of the Oxford Shop

I first met Wirick last spring when I stopped by The Oxford Shop. I was on a mission to find stylish men’s shoes for a feature in the magazine, and, short of Nordstrom, I was at a loss for great local resources. One day while driving down 100 south, the orange Oxford Shop sign caught my eye, and I thought, “The Oxford Shop–of course!”  My dad purchased shoes from the Oxford Shop—he still owns a pair of BASS shoes he bought from Wirick some 20 years ago—and I recalled him commenting on the shop’s selection of popular brands like Allen Edmonds, Clarks, Florsheim, and Nunn Bush. (Wirick was one of the first to bring fashionable men’s shoes to Salt Lake City when he opened his shop in 1951.)

When I walked into the shop, Wirick was seated on a green chair in a corner reading—a stack of books, newspapers, and magazines stood near his feet. I’d later learn that when Wirick wasn’t helping customers find a new pair of kicks, he would sit in his shop—six days a week from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.—and read. “May I help you?” he asked, looking up from his book and peering at me through his glasses with kind eyes. I explained to him that I was looking for a great pair of men’s shoes, something suitable for a groom. He smiled and said with excitement, “I have just what you are looking for.”

For the next hour, Wirick walked me through every notable pair of shoes in his small but well-stocked shop, explaining the significance and history of each shoe’s style and brand, including Clarks Desert Boots: “A classic—the one shoe every man should own,” he told me. “This style was inspired by the boots British officers wore during World War II.” The lesson in men’s footwear was fascinating, and Wirick seemed delighted to share his shoe smarts with a captive audience.

Clarks Desert Boot–one of Wirick’s favorite shoes

When he finished, I explained I wanted to include his shoes in a photo shoot for Salt Lake/Park City Bride & Groom magazine. “You mean you want to photograph these shoes?” he asked. He paused, processing the request, then said, “Well, in that case, let me polish them up for you!” He sent me home with four pairs of shoes on loan, which I included in the “Needful Things” feature in our summer/fall 2011 issue. A few months later, when the issue was on newsstands, I took a copy of the magazine to Wirick, and he was thrilled to see his shoes in the spotlight.

The “Needful Things” article featuring shoes from the Oxford Shop

It’s truly a shame Wirick is no longer here to help fathers and sons, grooms and groomsmen, find the perfect pair of shoes to wear to work or to their wedding. Wirick always put his best foot forward, and he helped generations of Salt Lake City men do the same. It was a pleasure knowing Wirick, and he will be greatly missed.

To read more about Wirick’s life and legacy, check out this article from The Salt Lake Tribune.

{Wirick photo via The Salt Lake Tribune}