Longtime Atlanta footwear retailer Bennie’s Shoes is the latest independent store forced to close amid a changing industry.
The retailer made the announcement in a short Facebook post on Friday. “After 114 years in business, we here at Bennie’s are sad to say that we will be closing for good at the end of the month,” the post said. “If you have shoe repair, please come pick them up. Shoes right now are 10-20 percent off our already discounted prices.”
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Bennie’s first opened in 1909 as a shoe repair shop by Bennie Shemaira, who immigrated to the U.S. from a Greek island when he was 16 years old. His original shop was located on Marietta Street across from where State Farm Arena is today. The store has since moved a few times before finally settling on its current location at 2625 Piedmont Road N.E., in the Buckhead neighborhood of Atlanta.
According to the retailer, the repair shop began to sell shoes in 1970 when Johnston & Murphy rejected 365 pairs of dress shoes at its factory and sent them to Bennie’s to move the inventory. Shoe sales quickly took off from there, leading Bennie’s to become one of the top men’s shoe stores in the South by 1995 — carrying over 40 brands at its peak.
Along the way, the store has remained a family-run business and is currently operated by Bennie’s grandson, Mark Shemaria. Over the years, the store has attracted famous clientele such as the late Congressman John Lewis, NBA great Charles Barkley and Outkast’s Andre 3000.
“It’s over for us,” Mark Shemaria told FN when reached by phone on Sept. 14. “Everybody who had stores like mine has gone under. We outlasted several independent shoe stores, but I’m just the latest in the story.”
Shemaria told FN that his business was hit hard by the pandemic, with business down 85 percent since 2020. This led to a battle with his landlord to keep his lease as sales plummeted. “I’ve lost my lease, so this is it,” the owner said. “Enough is enough.”
Shemaria continued: “Men don’t buy shoes in stores like they used to. All of the shoe manufacturers have their own websites now and can afford to sell the product for cheaper than I can buy them for my stores. I can’t compete with that.”
Another contributor to the store’s demise was the loss of key brands such as Ecco and New Balance. Shemeria noted that after working with New Balance for 42 years, the company “cut him off” a few years ago, saying that he wasn’t meeting its minimums. Shemeria also pointed out New Balance has opened multiple brand stores in the Atlanta area, increasing competition for consumers.
Bennie’s Shoes will officially close its doors on Sept. 30.
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