Gorleston shoe shop owner steps down after 50 years in business
- Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2014
Meet Kenneth Lee - the man knows many of his loyal customers by name - and shoe size
But after 50 years of selling footwear the old-fashioned way a Gorleston retailer is reaching for his slippers as he steps into retirement.
In its heyday Kenley's in Bells Road sold footwear all over the world - and a stack of polish, in-soles, and laces to boot.
Now the man behind the teetering piles of dusty boxes has declared at the age of 87 that it is time to go.
Kenneth Lee's departure by Christmas will mark the an end of an era for the busy shopping street, once second only to the high street in terms of the variety of shops and people.
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Kenley was one of three main fighter stations during the Battle of Britain, and thought Mr Lee, a good name for a shop, the moniker passing to him.
He said he would miss the shop but was pleased to have been of service to local folk for so long in his quaint shop.
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Mr Lee, who went 25 years without a holiday as he established the business, said he was bewildered by the computer age with people buying shoes on-line without trying them on.
In the early days a pair of shoes was an investment, usually British-made in leather and many times mended before they were thrown away.
And although he still has some loyal, regular customers, the retail revolution has left him behind and taken many of his clients with it.
Surrounded by stacks of boxes and yellowing notes Mr Lee's time-warp shop is a far cry from the shopping malls and supermarket outlets that people are used to.
Some of his stock is so old, made by names long-consigned to retail history, that they have crossed-over into vintage and fancy dress.
But despite the apparent lack of order Mr Lee knows exactly what-is-where and can locate a man's slipper or silver sandal in a flash.
Mr Lee started off working as a trainee manager for national shoe chain W & E Turner which had two branches in Great Yarmouth.
After 10 years he decided to branch out on his own opening a shop in Pier Walk, Gorleston, in October 1964 and a shoe repair shop in Baker Street in March 1968.
In 1972 the Pier Walk shop relocated to Beach Road, trading well until it closed in October 2004.
The shoe repair shop closed in 1978 when he moved to his present site in Bells Road, becoming particularly popular for slippers,
'The idea behind it was to try and sell British-made footwear,' he said. 'Unfortunately now the majority of footwear is made abroad. It has all been taken over by the 'wear and throw it brigade'. Footwear is virtually disposable whereas it used to be a reasonable investment.
'I wanted to sell everyday footwear for ordinary people. I did get quite famous at one time for Dr Martin boots selling to Australia all through word of mouth. I always tried to find what people wanted, odd sizes, big sizes - it was basically customer service. I always tried to oblige.'
These days Mr Lee still finds a niche market for certain styles as well as canvas boat shoes and plimsolls, popular with students who have had a 'mania' for them over the last three years.
'The moulded sole has its place in footwear history but it has become more disposable. Something that is leather is healthier to wear and can be repaired. A lot these days are just worn and thrown away,' he said.
Mr Lee plans to wind down from October and finish by Christmas, allowing him to spend more time with his wife of 60 years Kathleen, their daughter and grandchildren.
'I shall miss it,' he said. 'I have got a great satisfaction out of satisfying people's needs. The relationship with customers has gone with time. I am amazed that people buy footwear on the internet and seem to be pleased with that service.
'Some of the stock has been here since the 1970s. If you keep it long enough fashion repeats itself.'
He has sold yachting shoes to New Zealand, children's shoes to Hawaii and sandals to South Africa and is reckoned to be one of the last independent shoe shops in the area.
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