Lew Bodell, founder of longtime Long Beach shoe store, dies at 92

Lew Bodell, founder and longtime owner of Bodell’s Shoes, died this month of natural causes. He was 92.

Bodell was born and raised in Utah and headed west in the late ’40s to work as a manager for Leeds Shoe Store in downtown Long Beach. But Bodell wasn’t content to work for someone else; he wanted to open up his own shop.

So, when he heard about the sale of another shoe store on Viking Way, he took advantage of the opportunity. Bodell’s Shoes opened at its original location at 4148 Viking Way on March 1, 1959, and relocated in 1972 to its current site at 4190 Viking Way.

But Bodell wasn’t just a businessman.

“He was a good man,” his son Richard Bodell, 67, said in an interview. “I really cherished the time I had with him. He was a good dad, a good father.”

When the younger Bodell graduated from college in 1975 into a poor job market, his father offered him a job at the store. Richard Bodell agreed, stayed in the job and bought Bodell’s Shoes from his father 20 years later.

Father and son worked together at the shop until the elder Bodell retired in 2010.

“He worked here until he was 80 years-old, helping customers, climbing ladders, doing all that stuff,” Richard Bodell said, “until he finally said, ‘I’m going to hang up my shoehorn. I’m done.’”

But he didn’t retire into obscurity.

For his 90th birthday, the shoe store was dedicated to him; LA County Supervisor Janice Hahn, Assemblymember Patrick O’Donnell and City Councilmember Stacy Mungo sent plaques and letters.

And the half-block that connects Viking Way to Carson Street was dubbed, “Lew Bodell Lane.”

“He was pretty thrilled about that,” the younger Bodell said.

As Richard Bodell looks ahead, he’s not sure what the future holds for the store his father founded. He said he probably has another 10 years of working there himself.

“It’s hard work, being a small business,” he said. “It’s a challenge. It depends on — you’ve got the economy, you’ve got to worry about outlier issues like foreign policy, war, those kinds of things.  Even right now, with the pandemic, we’re barely hanging on.”

But for now, the younger Bodell said that what he does know is that “the legacy still lives on.”

Services for Lew Bodell will be held 2 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 22, at Rose Hill Cemetery, 3888 Workman Mill Rd., Whittier.

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