The Barn Family Shoe Store – Early Years

The Barn Founders

The Barn Family Shoe Store has been a family tradition since 1948, in more ways than one.  Family-owned and operated for over 60 years, The Barn was founded by Russell Wennbergh, an entrepreneur with a vision far ahead of his time. Like many entrepreneurs, he knew that to achieve big things, you have to start small. And so he began…first selling sneakers at discount prices from the trunk of his car, and then from rented warehouse bins where shoes were sorted by size rather than style.

The business flourished as families in the Newton area flocked to the new “store,” seeking quality shoes at off-prices. When customer demand exceeded his supply, Russell took over the entire warehouse at 25 Kempton Place, off Washington Street in West Newton, thus creating one of Greater Boston’s most recognized shoe stores. The Barn remains in this original location, still delivering an unmatched combination of top quality brands with a vast array of styles, backed by excellent service and competitive pricing.

Russell operated The Barn with a commitment to these values for the duration of his life.  After his death in 1964, his wife Lillian assumed the leadership role in the business, continuing its tradition as a family-owned and operated enterprise.  It was her business acumen and common sense approach that enabled her not only to continue what Russell had started but also to grow the loyalty of its customer base year by year.  From its modest beginnings, The Barn became the store where generations of families would shop together – a place where, “I remember that, when I was a kid, my mother always took me to The Barn to shop for shoes,” is regularly heard from customers today.

Generation after Generation

Up_up_and_awayAfter her retirement,  Lillian handed over ownership of The Barn to her daughter, Karen Stives, who had established a reputation as one of the world’s leading equestrians.  When representing the United States in international competition from 1980 to 1988 in Three-Day Eventing, one of the most challenging disciplines in equestrian sports – Karen achieved world acclaim when she won Team Gold and Individual Silver Medals in the 1984 Olympic Games.  In so doing, she became the first woman ever to win an Olympic medal in Three-Day Eventing.

Following her retirement from competition in 1988, Karen continued to contribute to equestrian sports by becoming a coach, an international judge, a member of numerous committees including the Board of the United States Equestrian Team (USET), and Chairperson of the Selection Committee for International Competition Teams for 10 years.

While overseeing The Barn signaled a new direction for Karen, she drew upon the same focus, determination and passion that made her a world-class rider to become an equally successful business owner.  As her longtime friend and colleague, United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) Director of Executive Sport Programs Jim Wolf stated in his speech inducting her into the Equestrian Hall of Fame, Karen is a “small package with a thousand-pound brain.”

Sadly, Karen passed away August 14, 2015 due to a long battle with cancer.(Please read a more comprehensive obituary below). Joe Carrigan, former Vice President and General Manager for The Barn for over 25 years, is now the Owner and President of The Barn. Joe, along with his wife Cindy and son Brendan, plan to continue to operate the store as a family owned business.

The Kids Barn is Born

SONY DSCIn 1995, Karen expanded the family concept behind The Barn by converting the adjacent building into The Kids Barn.  The Kids Barn is an entire store dedicated to children’s footwear, sporstwear and sporting goods, from infants to teenagers.  The Kids Barn soon won Boston Magazine’s prestigious Best of Boston – Best Children’s Shoe Store award.  Along with The Barn, The Kids Barn has been repeatedly awarded the TAB Newspaper’s #1 Readers Choice Awardand The Boston Parents Paper Best Children’s Shoe Store Award.  During its 60th Anniversary, The Barn had been named Retailer of the Year by the Boston Shoe Traveler’s Association (BSTA), adding to the numerous accolades it has won since its founding.


Karen photo 116704_20150815

We have some sad news we’d like to share with our loyal customers and followers. Karen Stives, an integral part of The Barn’s family, recently passed away due to a long battle with cancer. Karen’s father, Russell Wennbergh founded The Barn in 1948, and after his passing, Karen’s mom assumed the leadership role at The Barn. Karen carried the torch for over 25 years after her mother’s retirement. It was Karen’s expressed wish that The Barn continue to be run as a family-run business. This will be a seamless transition and we look forward to continuing to serve you with the high standards that you have come to expect from us. Karen will be missed by the countless lives she touched both in and out of the store. In the words of her good friend and equestrian colleague, Jim Wolf, “She was a small package with a thousand-pound brain.”

Karen was a world-class equestrian who achieved many awards and medals during her illustrious career. At the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, she anchored the United States Olympic Eventing Team that won the Team Gold Medal while also winning the individual Silver. She was the first woman in history to win an individual Olympic Three-Day-Event medal.

Karen Up_up_and_away

In 1995, Karen expanded the family concept behind The Barn by converting the adjacent building into The Kids Barn. The Kids Barn is an entire store dedicated to children’s footwear and sportswear. Together, The Barn and The Kids Barn have been the recipients of numerous awards, repeatedly winning Wicked Local and The Boston Parents Paper #1 shoe store in the region. We look forward to upholding Karen’s gold standard of excellence and family legacy by continuing to serve you and your family with all of your footwear needs in the years ahead.

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