Benge’s celebrates a century
If you’ve been to Benge’s Shoe Store at 514 Main St., there’s a good chance owner Bruce Benge knows your name and your shoe size.
Benge prides himself on personalized customer service and credits friendly personnel and a wide selection of shoes for the store’s longevity. Benge’s celebrates 100 years in business this year, which prompted the Grand Junction City Council to declare Monday will be Benge’s Shoes Day in Grand Junction.
“We wanted to wish him happy birthday and thank you for hanging in there as a business on Main Street,” Mayor Tom Kenyon said.
Benge has owned Colorado’s oldest shoe store since 1976, when he started buying the business from his father, Harry Benge. Harry’s father, Bertrand Benge, opened the business in 1911, a year after moving to Grand Junction from Winterset, Iowa.
Bruce Benge said he didn’t plan to go into the family business. But after three years in the National Park Service, he changed his mind.
He has stuck to his father and grandfather’s business plan, which is: “Pay attention to your customers and be involved in the community,” Benge said.
The shoe store has donated thousands of dollars to charity, and awards and plaques proclaiming appreciation for Benge’s service to the community adorn a back wall in the store.
The store even worked charitable organizations into its year-long anniversary promotions. Throughout this year, Benge’s has offered a monthly drawing for a $100 gift certificate and asked customers to vote for a monthly winner of a $100 check for a local charity. Other charities on a list of possible winners get $20 each month if they do not receive the most votes.
In a century, Benge’s has weathered booms and busts and competition from discount shoe stores and online shoe sales. Benge said he has retained customers because the Internet does not allow people to make sure they like the fit and design of a shoe before they buy it. Benge and his employees try each shoe from all 45 brands carried in the store to make sure they are comfortable and a good fit before he buys them, and customers can return shoes if they don’t like the way they look or feel.
As for shoe stores in malls and outlets, Benge said he competes against their larger advertising budgets and longer hours by getting to know his customers and making sure his employees know what each shoe is made of, where it comes from and what activities it is best for.
Shelley Sage, a Benge’s employee of 12 years, said Benge gives her quizzes on shoes every once in awhile, but she wouldn’t characterize him as a strict boss.
“It’s like a family here. They include you. There’s always incentives, and sometimes the shoe fairy comes to visit,” with money for shoe purchases, she said.
Shelly Ramos, who has worked at the store for nearly 18 years, said employees stick around because of Benge’s kindness.
“If we need anything, he’ll make it happen,” Ramos said. “He still carries on that tradition from 100 years ago. You don’t find employers like that much anymore.”
Customers don’t find the service Benge’s provides at every store these days, either. Patty Costello, who has worked at Benge’s for a year and a half, said she hears customers daily say they shop at Benge’s whenever they’re in town because they can’t find a store with comparable selection or customer service elsewhere.
“Any time I came in as a customer, I was greeted by my first name. I felt special,” Costello said.
Longtime Benge’s customer Martha Harris said she has been shopping there her entire adult life because “it has good footware, good service and good deals. They’re friendly, and they know their products. When I’ve had a problem, they’ve always been helpful and worked through it.”
Benge’s is one of a small number of businesses to make it to the 100-year mark in Grand Junction. But the milestone has been attainable for a select few. The Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce recently recognized three businesses that crossed that threshold: 101-year-old Callahan-Edfast Mortuary, 114-year-old Home Loan Insurance Co., and 116-year-old Page-Parsons Jewelers.
Benge’s will celebrate its anniversary with a sale running this weekend through Oct. 15, with 10 to 50 percent off all regular-priced merchandise that costs $50 or more, and 30 to 50 percent off sale-rack shoes. The store will have product give-aways and drawings for gift certificates daily throughout the sale.
Anyone who buys something at Benge’s on Benge’s Shoes Day this Monday can take their receipt to nearby Crystal Books & Gifts, Kairo’s, Pollux or Tangle for 10 percent off a purchase at those stores.