Benge's Shoe Store has seen many changes throughout its decades of business in downtown Grand Junction. Here it is pictured in the 1960s during the city's Operation Foresight construction.
Over the past nine decades, women’s shoe fashion has changed dramatically – from buttons to Velcro. Benge’s Shoe Store, a family-owned business on Main Street in downtown Grand Junction, has seen it all.
"Nothing's new that wasn't once old,” said Bruce Benge, the grandson of the store’s founder, Bertrand Benge. Bruce Benge explained that shoe fashion is cyclical. “Some of the different shoes in the store today, you’ll look at them and go, ‘That shoe’s 40 years old.’”
Bertrand Benge opened the store in 1911, and it has been in its current building for more than 80 years. Bruce Benge took ownership of the store around 1975, but there was a time when Benge’s fate as family-run was in question.
“When I was growing up, I thought I would be doing something else. I wasn’t quite sure what it was,” said Benge. “But this kind of clicked and worked, and it’s a great family tradition. I’m happy to be here.”
Since Benge’s first opened in the early 1900s, the inventory has been constantly updated. But the layout of the store is surprisingly the same. Shoes are still displayed in the large, front windows, and the boxes of inventory still line the side walls.
The biggest difference for today’s era of Benge’s is that when the store first opened, shoes were displayed only in the front windows, which were used to lure customers in. Once inside, they would sit down and be helped. These days, customers are still invited in by the big windows, but then can browse the shoe displays up-close once inside.
Taking advantage of its history, Bruce Benge prides himself on creating an ambiance of the past, amidst fashions of the present. Grand Junction resident Martha Pilgrim has shopped at Benge’s for decades.
“I can remember using the x-ray machine with my mom,” said Pilgrim.
The x-ray machine is a shoe-fitting Fluoroscope, which is still on display in the store. It was used between the 1930s and 1940s to take an x-ray of customers’ feet, which helped to get the right fit.
Another piece of history still in the store is a carousel horse that was purchased by Bertrand Benge in the 1950s from the Grand Junction Lions Club. It was used to entertain children while their parents shopped.
But it’s not just what’s inside the store that has an interesting past. The store itself holds a place in the history of the city.
Zebulon Miracle, of the Museum of the West, pointed out some of its historical characteristics. "It's still very, very long and narrow, like the original store fronts around Main Street, and they still have these great big beautiful windows out front,” said Miracle. The ceiling is still the pressed tin, so it's a very, very nice looking ceiling. So when you go into Benge's it really feels like you're back in the time.”
Another distinctive feature is that Benge’s is the second oldest shoe store in Colorado, and one of the oldest family-run businesses.
"Being the second oldest store in Colorado is something that we should be very proud of in our town," said Miracle.
Over the past 97 years, some things about Benge’s have changed. Comfort, for example, became the number one buying decision for women just seven years ago. But other things have remained the same.
“I remember growing up, coming in,” said long-time customer Pilgrim. “It was always the place to get the good shoes. It was Benge’s.”
If you want to learn more about Benge’s, or if you’d like to leave your thoughts about the story, click here to visit Lisa McDivitt’s blog, “New Girl on the Block.”