BELFAST — There’s a shoe store in Belfast where, at least part of the year, socks are used to cover shoes.

For the third straight year Colburn Shoes, America’s oldest shoe store, has asked for sock donations during the holiday season. Owner Colby Horne and his father Brian will then donate the socks to several local and regional charities for distribution.

Colburn Shoes has been in business since 1812. The Horne family purchased the store from the Colburns in 1922 and have kept it a family enterprise for a century. Colby purchased the store from Brian five years ago.

In 2020 the United Way of Eastern Maine approached the Hornes about collecting donated socks for distribution to those in need.

“It’s the third year we’ve done it,” Brian told The Journal Dec. 1. “The United Way comes in and takes most of the socks to distribute them. We also distribute them here locally through several organizations and charities.”

Donated socks are kept in the front window of Colburn’s Main Street location in Belfast. As donations pile up the socks cover the shoes displayed in the window. On Dec. 1, the sock pile had nearly reached the top of the display window.

Donated socks must be purchased new (women’s and children’s socks are a particular need). Donors can come into Colburn’s and add them to the growing mound in the display window.

“The first year we had around 4,000 pairs,” Horne said. “Last year we did 6,000. Our goal this year is to reach 8,000 socks. We’ve done pretty well so far.” The count on Dec. 1 was 4,402 pairs.

Why socks?

“Socks are one of the most sought-after items, especially this time of year,” he said. “It’s not just the homeless who need them. We see a lot of kids who don’t have socks, and sometimes, this is where they get them. We’re just happy to be a part of it.”

Everyone can participate in Colburn Shoes’ sock drive. Do you have a pair to spare?