Business has been tough for a while at Zelaya Shoe Warehouse (4940 St Elmo Ave.) so an impressive new job offer was hard to turn down for owner Tony Zelaya.
Zelaya, who has run the store for almost 11 years and who almost shut it down in December of 2011, will be moving to Dubai to work as the main buyer for a major Middle Eastern fashion website. Zelaya Shoe Warehouse will close Sunday or Monday, depending on the result of a clearance sale this weekend.
“It was a job offer I couldn’t refuse,” Zelaya said. “Even if the store was doing well, I probably would have shut it down. It was that good of an offer.”
The store was faring better since Zelaya slashed prices in early 2012. But in retail, with big department stores and online merchants, succeeding as a small business was a tall task.
Zelaya was frank about the small business environment in Bethesda and elsewhere, especially after the economic struggles of recent years.
“People just go to the big box retailers. They go online and they get shocked when they see a small business owner go out of business but yet, they hadn’t really been supporting them very long and when they did, a lot of times, they’d come in and haggle.” Zelaya said. “I think small businesses that are great restaurants can survive. People are still eating out. When it comes to footwear and retail, the small business owner really can’t compete price-wise with the department stores, can’t compete price-wise with the online companies and the customers kind of smell the blood in the water.
“I wish that it was different. I thought after 10 years, I’d be owning three or four locations and having tremendous business,” Zelaya said. “But basically, I hit the employment lottery. I’m very blessed and very excited.”
From now until Sunday, all shoes will be $20 or less. For more information visit Zelaya’s Facebook page.