Quite a feat: Palos Heights shoe store owner honored by MVCC
By Ginger Brashinger Correspondent February 5, 2014 5:30PM
Marc Goldberg, owner of Golden Shoes in Palos Heights, displays the Moraine Valley Community College 2013 Entrepreneur/Small Business Person of the Year award and an award from the Palos Area Chamber of Commerce for 50 years in business. | Ginger Brashinger~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 16, 2014 9:34AM
Marc Goldberg knows that one way to run a successful small business is to just be there.
The owner of Golden Shoes in Palos Heights — and recent recipient of the Moraine Valley Community College 2013 Entrepreneur/Small Business Person of the Year Award — has more than 50 years of personal experience to back up his belief.
“Our longevity is just hands-on, just total hands-on, putting our nose to the grindstone and just always having somebody in the family here,” said Goldberg, 65, of the business at 12212 S. Harlem Ave.
To make sure that happens six days a week, Goldberg said he works about “60 to 70 hours” weekly at the family-owned business where he once worked with his parents, Irving “Goldie” Goldberg and Jeanette Goldberg.
For the past 30 or 35 years, Goldberg said, it’s been only him. He said his late wife and daughters Aliza and Jessica have never worked in the business.
“Retail’s not for everybody,” Goldberg said.
It is “for” Goldberg. He greets people, measures feet, pulls shoes off the storeroom shelves and fits his customers just like any other of his nine or 10 employees.
It’s a work ethic he learned at age 14, when his father first began teaching Goldberg the shoe business.
Irving Goldberg opened Golden Shoes in 1946 at 6844 S. Halsted St. in Chicago’s Englewood community. By the early 1960s, the business had diminished so much, Goldberg said, his father could not afford employees.
“My mother would pick me up on Friday afternoons from South Shore High School,” Goldberg said. “In those days we were open until 9 o’clock, and (the school) had the deal ... if there was some kind of hardship, you got early dismissal.”
Goldberg said he worked until 9 p.m. Friday evenings and all day on Saturdays. Even after earning an undergraduate degree in marketing and accounting and his MBA from Northern Illinois University, Goldberg continued to work for his father, not because it was his career of choice, Goldberg said, but because “my father needed me.”
By 1963, when Irving Goldberg moved his store to Palos Heights, owning a business in Englewood had become a matter of life and death, Goldberg said.
“My father had a gun put to his head three times,” Goldberg said. “The last time he was robbed ... my mother said, ‘That’s it. You shut the door. If we have to go out and panhandle on Madison Avenue, we will, but I’m not going to be a widow raising my kids.’ ”
Golden Shoes flourished in Palos Heights for many years — it will be 51 years in June — although sales have been declining despite the quality customer service and “tens of thousands” of shoes in his inventory, Goldberg said.
He knows why things are changing, and it’s a difficult reality for him to accept.
Big-box stores, malls and discount stores are definitely competing for his shoe dollar, but that’s not as hard to take as the impersonal Internet, Goldberg said.
“People try to save 10 or 15 dollars shopping on the Internet,” Goldberg said. “Tell me one thing the Internet has done for the South Side communities. They give nothing to the infrastructure of the community.”
Goldberg said his store pays $45,000 in property tax.
“That’s a lot of shoes,” he said.
Paying taxes is only a part of it. Goldberg said his father never turned away anyone in the community who came to him asking for a donation for a community cause.
“My father was proud he never turned a church down, he never turned a school down, the police department, fire department, 4-H, Boy Scouts,” Goldberg said. “People forget even if they are paying less on the Internet, what we’ve given back to the community is tenfold to what the Internet (saves them). If their kids go to St. Al’s (St. Alexander) school, public schools, St. Michael’s, every one of them will tell you Golden Shoes has never turned them down.
“I’ve been proud to carry on the tradition, yes, absolutely.”
Goldberg said Golden Shoes has, in return, been supported by many loyal customers.
“I’ve made a living. I’ve supported my kids. I’ve raised my kids,” Goldberg said. “The community has been good to me so I’m just trying to give back to the community.”
He doesn’t know how much longer his business can continue in the current small business climate, but Goldberg has some customers who would hate to see him close his doors.
Longtime Orland Park customer Sharon Peterson has been traveling to Palos Heights for her family’s shoes since 1969 when she discovered Golden Shoes was the only store that carried narrow sizes for her then-2-year-old daughter.
Peterson said she continues to shop at Golden Shoes to fit a family of “narrows” — and for the store’s outstanding customer service.
Peterson said when she recently brought a pair of defective shoes in for repair, one of the salespeople “dropped them off on my front porch” because she was unable to pick them up at the store.
“They were always good with service,” Peterson said.
Retired elementary teacher Susanne Richardson, 66, of Palos Heights, nominated Goldberg for the MVCC business award after years as a customer. Richardson said her mother began buying shoes from Irving Goldberg when his store was in Chicago and the family continued to shop there after the store moved to Palos Heights.
“I will only buy shoes from Golden Shoes,” Richardson said.
“My mother would go there because she liked doing business with (Marc’s) dad,” Richardson said. “He was honest and trustworthy and they stood by their products.”
Like father, like son, Richardson said.
“I’ve never met a merchant that was so caring,” Richardson said. “He acts as if all his customers are long-lost friends or family. He just endears himself to so many people.”