After 67 years in the women’s shoe business, B.K. Sutton said goodbye to his family storefront on Orchard Park Road in Greenville this past spring.
With more than 6,500 pair of shoes to part with, the Suttons saw hundreds of customers filtering into Sutton’s Shoes from March to May to say how much they were going to miss Sutton and his son Robert “Bob” Sutton ’79.
“We’ve had some hug us; we’ve had a few cry with us,” he said. “We have three generations of customers.”
B.K. Sutton said the decline of customers in the last 10 years, especially since the recession of 2008, ultimately drove the decision to close up the last storefront of three the family has operated since 1950. The family opened three Greenville locations, including the Pleasantburg Shopping Center and Haywood Mall, which remained open into the 1990s.
But B.K.’s looking forward to a full-time retirement with more golf and traveling. “My son is 61 years old. I’m 88 years old. It’s time,” he said.
B.K., a textile manufacturing major, began at Clemson in 1946. “There’s no other place I’d ever thought about going,” he said with a wide grin.
While working his first job at the Judson Plant in Greenville, he was called into active duty in the Korean War. “It wasn’t a shock. We all sort of expected it,” he said.
While B.K. was making headway in a military career, his father O.W. had aspirations of opening a department store. Sutton’s father worked at the Belk store in downtown Greenville in fashion merchandising. Opening an entire department store wasn’t in the cards in 1950, so O.W. and his wife Clara moved forward with one specialty — women’s shoes.
“It was in Lewis Plaza off Augusta Road. It was unheard of at that time to have anything off Main Street whether that was here or in Atlanta,” said B.K. “We priced shoes from $8 to $30. People were standing in line for our merchandise.”
After four years in the Korean War, Sutton remained in the reserves, but took his service-oriented heart back to the shoe store to help his father build their generations of legacy. Bob joined the store after completing his degree at Clemson.
“I hate to see the Sutton name leaving the big community, but I’ve really enjoyed my civilian life,” he said.