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Last vestige of iconic Manchester shoe company closing

New Hampshire Union Leader

August 11. 2014 9:25PM
Anne Burkush of Bee Bee Shoe Store fits Tony Creonte of Manchester with a new pair of sneakers as his wife, Catherine, watches at the South Willow Street business on Monday. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

MANCHESTER — Bee Bee Shoe Store, independently owned for more than a half-century, is closing its doors.

A “Store Closing” sign welcomed customers Monday at the shoe shop in a strip mall across from the Mall of New Hampshire.

“It’s hard to compete as one small independent store, one location,” Anne Burkush said Monday. “It’s very difficult to compete with all the large big-box stores and the Internet reaching millions and millions.”

Burkush said she suspected some customers were "showrooming," or trying out products in her store, then buying them for less online. A worker recently spent an hour with a mother and her kids measuring their feet and offering shoes to try on before the family left empty-handed.

“I realize in this day and age, everyone needs a bargain,” said Burkush, who started working as a sales clerk for Bee Bee in 1977.

She expects her store will close in about 30 days. Fewer than 8,000 pairs of footwear remained, with everything marked 20 to 50 percent off.

Bee Bee once manufactured shoes in Manchester before its factory closed in the 1970s.

Under a different owner, Bee Bee had sold shoes from a store at 80 Canal St. The first store opened in 1962. Burkush and John Maranda, both shoe buyers for Bee Bee, acquired the company name and opened the store at 1525 South Willow St. in 2005.

“Bee Bee has been a part of this city for so long,” Burkush said. “The people did know the name and customer service and brands that we carried.”

When Burlington Coat Factory left the strip mall several years back, Bee Bee lost about 15 percent of its business, Burkush said. The new tenant, Hobby Lobby, didn’t produce the same foot traffic the shoe store had previously enjoyed, she said.

And since the 2012 opening of the Merrimack outlets — with 24 shoe stores listed on its website — business at Bee Bee dropped another 20 percent, she said.

A spokesman for the outlet center Monday didn’t immediately respond for comment.

Valerie Neill of Candia said she felt “sadness for a smaller, family-based business that has been around forever.”

Neill has shopped at Bee Bee for about 15 years, filling the needs of a “fussy” daughter, Isabelle, and a husband, Steven, who she said has a difficult-to-find shoe size.

She described shopping at Bee Bee as “a different experience. We don’t have to go to a big mall.”

On Monday afternoon, Burkush saw many first-time customers, including Charles Ellis of Concord, who bought a pair of sandals.

“I found what I’m looking for immediately and I’ve checked for them in a couple for stores,” he said.

Neill said small local stores are being “picked off one by one.”

“We were going to come school shopping in a couple weeks,” she said. “I’ll have to do it without her because it’ll be closed or bare,” Neill said.

Repeat customer Catherine Creonte was helping her husband of 69 years, Tony, choose a pair of sneakers. She said the store’s fate surprised her.

“I’m shocked,” the Bedford woman said. “I feel bad for the little guy.”

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