Carrying an armful of boots and display props, Glenn Beverly Bennett Jr., better known as the Shoe Guy, is hard at work rearranging shoes and other knickknacks at Hampden's Ma Petite Shoe. He navigates the tiny shop, nestled in a converted rowhouse on the Avenue in one fluid motion, shuffling from the front to the back, then down the stairs to the basement where all the shoes are stored, and back again as if he's in his own natural habitat of trendy shoes.
"I can give you a hand with that in a sec," says co-worker Rebecca Eastman, who is arranging knee-high socks and antique-looking jewelry that hang from the walls.
"Actually, I am done," says Bennett, "I was just sticking boots in a new home temporarily."
On a Tuesday in November, employees at the boutique that sells shoes and chocolates—feeding the sweet tooth and shoe obsession simultaneously—field a typical round of phone calls, emails, merchandising, cleaning, customers, more phone calls, more emails, and, well, more customers.
Bennett takes it in stride. "It's an easy job," he says and rattles off a list of his favorite brands: Jeffrey Campbell, Pikolinos, Poetic License, Irregular Choice, Blowfish, and Mizz Mooz, to name a few. "I help people find shoes all day long . . . which is not such a bad thing." Indeed, spending the past 10 years among shoes and women's feet has made him an enthusiastic expert and earned him a local reputation as the Shoe Guy. "I just really like helping a person tie their outfit all together or see the potential in one shoe over another." And he practices what he preaches. On this particular day he wears a pair of Miz Mooz heels. "They have a great wing tip look to them, and I love a nice chunky 70's Pimp heel in a shoe," he says. "Truth be told, most of my shoes are women's styles." Men's shoes are "boring" and women's shoes fit his feet a little better, he explains. He buys most of his many shoes here. "It's a bit of a job hazard."
He takes a moment to sit down on a plush gray ottoman in the middle of the store with a glass of water in hand, partially to admire his handiwork but mainly to catch his breath—and share his views.
His philosophy of shoe-wearing is expansive; nothing is off limits. "The thing I hear the most is, 'Where would I wear that?' Well, where wouldn't you wear that? Just because you are going to the grocery store doesn't mean you have to put on sneakers and sweatpants. It takes the same amount of effort to put on a cute pair of jeans and a fancy little low heel."
Exuding his own sense of style with a trendy gray scarf over a black sweater, denim jeans, and a swanky pair of black ankle boots, he shows that it takes little effort to throw on something cute and look your best. "You're going to run into several people you know or want to know," he says. "Why not look your best? We are all such pretty people to begin with."
Bennett looks over his shoulder to see his co-worker Eastman with a customer who is not completely sold on a pair of Irregular Choice heels—a perfect opportunity for the tag-team sell.
"These are really cute, I love the gold toe on them," says Eastman.
"I love the way it turns up, too," says Bennett.
The customer pulls up her jeans to reveal a cool pair of knee-high Godzilla socks.
"They match perfectly in my opinion . . . It's such a fun little shoe!" says Bennett, adding that he too is "a sucker for any kind of faux crocodile or reptile print."
"I don't usually like that, but these are like really weird," says the customer as she models the shoe in the mirror. There is still uncertainty in her voice. It's time to go in for the kill.
"It's very subtle in this shoe. It's a mix," says Bennett. "You've got the floral, you've got the scallop, and you've got a little gold metallic. Perfect example, dressy little shoe, you're in something casual, super cute."
After a brief moment of contemplation, the customer whips out her bank card, says, "Yeah, I'll get them," and drops $149.99.
Bennett's co-workers and his boss, owner Susannah Siger who opened the shop in 2002, all describe him "fabulous," for the life and personality he brings to the shop.
And almost on cue, a former employee of Ma Petite Shoe enters the store and Bennett introduces her as Jackie Milad. Milad trained him when he started working for the store 10 years ago.
"Quick! In one word, how would you describe me?"
"Oh my gosh!" she says, putting her hand on her head to think.
"That's several words but that works too," Bennett says, letting Milad off the hook. "I would say 'complicated' but that's just because it's me." Describing himself, he says he a Taurus. Asked his age, he says, 'A lady never tells her age—but I'm 45." Explaining his own sense of style, he lists some rules he lives by. Every day in December, until Christmas, he wears red and green. For the entire month of July he wears red, white, and blue. For February, through Valentine's Day, it's love-inspired outfits, or what he considers "first-date attire."
His personality and knowledge of shoes is why so many women become lifelong customers of Ma Petite Shoe. "I have watched enough of our client's children grow up that I have sold to the mother, then the daughter, then the granddaughter," he says. "I've sold many girls their very first pair of heels. I've watched customers go to college, come back home, get married, and move to fancy jobs in New York."
One of his favorite things to do at the store is getting customers to play dress-up. "Half the fun of this store is trying them on," he says. "It's a nice way to kind of lose yourself from your day."
Not only does he enjoy selling shoes, he also enjoys wearing them.
"I have several pairs of shoes," Bennett says modestly. An outburst of laughter from Eastman brings the truth out of him. "I am under 150 pair, easily. I am good," he insists, then adds, "I do not bring home a shoe that I am not going to wear."