Bob Ellis Shoe Store for Women and Men
Downtown. 332 King St. 722-2515
Barry Kalinsky has been running Bob Ellis for 20 years. Since his father opened the store in 1950, the name Bob Ellis has been synonymous with the most high-end footwear that Charleston has to offer. Until 1973, the store was located at 321 King, the current home of Pottery Barn. In that year, a fire originating in an upstairs apartment destroyed almost a half-block of businesses and residences, including Bob Ellis. Kalinsky's father picked up the pieces and moved to 332 King, where the business continues to thrive. Today, Kalinsky reveals that he knows at least half of the people who walk through his door by name, but as far as who among Charleston's elite he has shod, he's not talking.
Fortunately, Converse College president Betsy Fleming is not shy about sharing her love for Bob Ellis. She theorizes that it is a hereditary obsession, as her mother, grandmother, and aunt had been loyal patrons of the store since before she had even heard of Prada. She travels from Spartanburg to visit Bob Ellis and even bypassed Big Apple shoe stores while living in New York so that she could stock up at Bob Ellis when she visited South Carolina. So what's the big draw?
"It's not just about the shoes, but the entire experience," Fleming says. "Looking, trying on, and talking with all who happen to be shopping with you. The Bob Ellis folks make a fun event out of trying shoes on and finding the right shoe, or shoes, as the case may be. Is there anything that makes a woman feel more wonderful than sporting a fabulous new pair of heels?"
It is this attention to customer service that has driven the store's success over the years. With locations in Charlotte and Atlanta, it's evident that Bob Ellis has found the magic formula -- expertise, style and personal attention. Bob Ellis also makes giving back to the community a priority. Just this year, Kalinsky donated a gift certificate to the "Another Night at Fleet Landing" auction to benefit the Dee Dee Norton Lowcountry Children's Center. Lucky winner Jenny Renken is entitled to a new pair of shoes for every season in 2007.
Kalinsky acknowledges that it can be difficult for an independent merchant to compete with national chains, but he gives credit to Mayor Riley for the commercial revitalization of the downtown area, particularly over the past 10-20 years. While other Charlestonians grumble about the "mallification" of King Street, Kalinsky appreciates the foot traffic attracted by the familiar corporate names.
Some of the most popular designers represented at Bob Ellis include Prada, Jimmy Choo, Stuart Weitzman, and the poster child for luxurious shoes, Manolo Blahnik. Kalinsky notes that the popularity of the HBO series Sex and the City did wonders for business as Carrie Bradshaw and company obsessed over their strappy sandals at least once per episode. "We actually had people come in off the street just to see what a Manolo Blahnik looked like" Kalinsky says. Luckily for Kalinsky, many of them got hooked. --Jesse Hendrix