Mason Companies Always Stepping Forward
after nearly 120 years, C.F. business draws customers with shoes and more
Chippewa Falls was born because of the logging industry, so it owes its existence to the trees and rivers of the Northwoods. But there would be no logging without loggers, and besides their saws, perhaps the most important equipment loggers had were their boots. Without a durable pair of boots, the hard work of a lumberjack wouldn’t be possible. Consequently, by the late 19th century there were at least 25 boot makers in Chippewa Falls.
In this footwear-rich environment was born what is now the Mason Companies, founded by Bert A. Mason and his father, August, in 1904. The family-owned company is still prospering in Chippewa Falls, and it’s in the midst of a sizable expansion. The ground was broken last year on a new 425,000-square-foot fulfillment center in the Lake Wissota Business Park. A portion of the new building will be ready for the company to move into this summer, said President and CEO Jay Berlin.
“We really wanted to stay in our community,” Berlin said in an interview. “Chippewa Falls is our home, and has been since the beginning.”
“We really wanted to stay in our community. Chippewa Falls is our home, and has been since the beginning.”
And from the beginning, a sense of “reinvention and entrepreneurism” has been vital to the company, he said. Early in its history, Mason innovated by producing catalogs and sending hundreds of door-to-door salesmen out to peddle its shoes. In the 1980s, it moved heavily into the mail-order business, and the company launched its first website in 1999. Since then, Mason has expanded beyond shoes into apparel, household goods, and beauty products, maintaining nine distinct retail brands, Berlin said.
“We do continue to grow, even during this COVID period,” he said. “It shows one of the strengths of the company: We are a diversified business.” In fact, the fiscal year that ended in 2021 set a record for the company, and the growth has continued this year, Berlin said.
All that expansion necessitated the new facility, he said, explaining that it will ultimately encompass 925,000 square feet after additional phases are finished. And more space also means more workers: Mason employs more than 700 people, all of them based in Wisconsin and nearly all in the Chippewa Valley, where they are engaged in marketing, customer care, distribution, and more.
Mason offers something else special to the community, locals and visitors alike are drawn to downtown Chippewa Falls to the Mason Companies Shoe & Clothing Outlet Store, 301 N. Bridge St. The store – which is in the midst of upgrades that are expected to be finished by July 1 – carries apparel from the likes of North Face, Under Armor, and Columbia as well as shoes made by Mason Companies and other brands.
“We have a lot of people who travel from the Chicago area or the Twin Cities,” said Erin Copeland, who manages the store. “The reason is we are known as a different shoe store. We have the shoes that fit people who don’t have the perfect feet.”
Bus tours also stop at the retail outlet, bringing visitors who shop for deals in the front of the store as well as the backroom, which carries discontinued and seasonal merchandise.
After nearly 120 years, Mason is still family-owned, with the sixth generation of shareholders planning to attend a shareholders meeting that’s timed to coincide with the Northern Wisconsin State Fair.
Mason is also family-oriented, Berlin said, offering good benefits for employees and financial and volunteer support for the community, backing organizations such as the Boys & Girls Clubs, Agnes’ Table, Open Door Clinic, and the Family Support Center. “That’s a big part of who we are,” Berlin said.