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Location DB > Canada > Ontario > Kitchener > Greb Shoe / Berlin Shoe Company
Greb Shoe / Berlin Shoe Company
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 Database Info
created by vapula on 7/10/2009 2:45 PM
last modified by Emperor Wang on 8/25/2023 7:52 PM
Publically Viewable Publically Viewable
This location has been labeled as Demolished, and therefore can be viewed by anyone.
Really historic and old factory with offices in the front.
 Basic Information
Type: Building
Status: Demolished
Accessibility: Easy
Recommendation: worth the trip
 Physical Information
Hayward Ave.
Kitchener, Ontario
  • See a map of this location
  •  Hazards
  • asbestos
  • rust
  • air quality
  • dark in some parts
  •  Interesting Features
    The factory its self is very interesting, its really freaking old :P
    Very photogenic place.
     Security Measures
  • wooden boarding
  • there are motion sensors but they ARE NOT responding! the main securty hub is trashed
  •  Historical Dates
    Built: 1910
    Closed: 1990
     Required Equipment
  • flashlight
  • breathing mask
  • gloves
  •  Recommended Equipment

    Greb Shoe, founded by Charles Greb as the Berlin Shoe Company in Kitchener in 1910, ultimately became one of the largest manufacturer's of footwear in Canada. At its peak, operated by a dedicated and talented group of executives, it was producing over a million pair of Hush Puppy casual footwear, 950,000 pair of Bauer Skates, and 700,000 pair of Kodiak work boots annually. Hush Puppy, Bauer, and Kodiak probably represented three of the most popular footwear brands in Canada during the 1960's and 1970's.

    {article copy and pasted from The Record}

    The story starts around 1910 when Greb's grandfather, Charles, a native of Zurich, Ont., moved with his family to Kitchener, then known as Berlin. Within a few years, the pioneering entrepreneur bought the Berlin Shoe Co. and brought in his son, Erwin, into the business. It was renamed Greb Industries in 1916.

    The story of the family company is woven into the story of the community and its political life. Charles Greb became mayor. There is a picture in the book of him posing with a large group of notables, including former prime minister William Lyon Mackenzie King.

    "At one point my grandfather was the mayor and my father was president of the board of trade," Greb says.

    Greb, who started working at the company in 1948 as a factory hand, is the last Greb family member who was actively involved in the business. He was born just as the company started to struggle through the Great Depression. His brothers, Harry and Arthur, who were much older and started working at the company in the late 1930s, have since died.

    Erwin Greb kept his workers on the job during the Great Depression. "I have letters from employees who wrote to thank my father for doing that," Greb says.

    During the Second World War, Greb Industries was busy making military boots. "We outfitted the first Canadian division to go overseas," Greb says.

    "We turned everything over to the war effort . . . If it was good for the country and if it was good for the war effort, then it was done. That's the way people thought back then."

    Technology evolved. The company started making boots using a process that vulcanized the rubber bottom to the leather upper using high-pressure vulcanizing machines.

    "What that allowed us to do was to make a waterproof leather boot," Greb says.

    The end of the Korean War in the mid-1950s ushered in a downturn.

    The company made the gut-wrenching decision to close a plant on Mansion Street. "But, as it turned out, most of those people were called back or went to work for Bauer," says Greb. Greb Industries bought Bauer Skate in 1965.

    In 1960s, when marketing was king, Greb started making Hush Puppies under licence from Wolverine World Wide Inc. of Rockford, Mich.

    "At that time, there really was no such thing as a casual shoe," Greb says. "If you went to mow your lawn or to a picnic, you wore your old dress shoes. So we were trying to sell this new concept of casual footwear at $9.95 a pair for men's and $8.95 for ladies, when you could buy tennis shoes for $2."

    The company hit on the then-novel concept of advertising on television before the product was available in stores.

    When Hush Puppies finally arrived, the brand was already a household name.

    The name and symbol came from Wolverine's marketing department, but Greb brought the concept alive with a real basset hound named Velvet, and a small sidekick, Jasmine.

    The dogs lived the life of Riley.

    "Velvet travelled with me wherever I went," Greb says. "She stayed in the finest hotels."

    In 1973, Velvet and Jasmine disappeared, unleashing international media attention and public outrage. Jasmine's body was eventually found at the bottom of a silo. Velvet was never found.

    "I think some kids probably did it," Greb says.

    The following year, the family sold the business.

    Greb's older brothers were ready to retire, but also, "we were growing too fast to finance it," he says.

    Warrington was controlled by a trust company set up for the Bronfman family of the Seagram liquor empire. The Grebs thought they were serving the employees well by selling to a Canadian company.

    "How could you do better than to be selling to the Bronfmans," Greb asks.

    But the company went downhill from there.

    The last local Greb plant closed in 1990.

    Greb acknowledges that employees were bitter over the company's demise. Much of the blame, he says, lay with Warrington, which had its fingers in too many consumer products and tried to operate shoe factories by a "Harvard Business School book."

    Greb concedes that difficult economic conditions also were at play.

    "After we sold, the economy went into a downturn. There were the high interest rates of the late 1970s, as high as 18 to 20 per cent. That was when a lot of shoe companies disappeared."

    Still, Kitchener owes a huge debt to Greb Industries.

    Throughout the city are hundreds of small, modest homes built by people who worked at Greb and raised their children here.

    The Greb Story is dedicated to "the thousands of faithful employees who played such a vital role, with the belief that they not only earned a living with Greb, but they were truly part of a large and personal family."

    That's how Greb will always remember it.

    The Greb Story is available at Words Worth Books in Waterloo, and also at or by sending an e-mail to [email protected]
     Media Coverage

     Future Plans


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     Photo Galleries
    Click to view gallery
    Vapula's nervous exploration with MissAngst
    Fri, Jul 10th, 2009
    posted by vapula
    25 pictures
    Click to view gallery
    07.11.2009 explore
    Sat, Jul 11th, 2009
    posted by phrenzee
    15 pictures

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    inside pano
    Fri, Jul 10th, 2009
    posted by vapula

    roof top pano
    Fri, Jul 10th, 2009
    posted by vapula

    360 part one :P
    Fri, Jul 10th, 2009
    posted by vapula

    360 part two :P
    Fri, Jul 10th, 2009
    posted by vapula
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    The moderator rating is a neutral rating of the content quality, photography, and coolness of this location.

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    This location's validation is current. It was last validated by Emperor Wang on 8/25/2023 7:52 PM.

     Latest Changes
  • on Aug 25 23 at 19:52, Emperor Wang validated this location
  • on Aug 25 23 at 19:52, Emperor Wang changed the following: History, Interesting Features, Media Coverage, Description
  • on Dec 20 16 at 11:58, Emperor Wang validated this location
  • on Dec 20 16 at 11:58, Emperor Wang changed the following: Display Name, Street Address, History
  • on Aug 22 10 at 1:37, Emperor Wang validated this location
  • on Aug 20 10 at 13:24, phrenzee changed the following: Status
  • on Jul 23 10 at 1:05, Opheliaism validated this location
  • on Jul 23 10 at 0:36, phrenzee changed the following: Status
  • on Jul 16 09 at 3:31, Steed validated this location
  • on Jul 16 09 at 2:27, phrenzee updated gallery picture
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