After 33 years in business, Lena's Shoes & Fashions sells
If there’s anyone who remembers downtown’s bustling retail days, it’s Lena Thomason, who was 16 years old when she worked selling shoes at Rubenstein’s.
“I went to work at Rubenstein’s in 1945,” said Lena.
“Oh, it was nice,” Lena said. “I mean, those sidewalks were always packed.”
Businesses and shops continued to thrive. In 1984, just before Rubenstein’s closed, Lena made a decision.
“I got home one afternoon and I told my husband – I said, ‘You know what, I’m fixin’ to quit work.’ He said, ‘It’s about damn time.’ I said, ‘But there’s a little fine line under there.’ He said, ‘What?’ I said, ‘I’m going to open me up a shoe store.’”
Lena not only opened a shoe store, she kept it going successfully for 33 years at the corner of Milam and Marshall.
Cynthia Smith has been a customer of Lena’s for at least 25 years.
“Can’t find a shoe to fit me but at Lena’s,” said Cynthia.
That’s one of the reasons Lena’s has survived.
“I think it’s because of the line of shoes we have and the size structure, ‘cause we go to size 13 in women’s shoes,” said Lena.
Another reason Lena’s seems to be the sole surviving shoe store downtown could be the relationships Lena has built over the years.
“When you walk in the door, she greets you,” said Cynthia. “She knows everybody’s name.”
“They act like they’re just family,” Lena said of her customers. “We get close to the customer.”
Lena has some advice for anyone looking to run a successful business.
“Well, the first thing I would tell them – if you’ve got a house note or a car note, you don’t need to be in business,” Lena said.
This weekend, Lena retired, selling her business to new owners.
“It’s just been great,” Lena said. “I wouldn’t trade it for nothing.”
But a stroke has left Lena unable to drive and having to use a walker.
When asked what she is going to miss the most, Lena said, “Probably the customers.”
Lena says she’ll stay on as a consultant to the new owners of Lena’s, Phoebe and Bernard Kimball of Mt. Olive Baptist Church.