Desiree Romero stood in the nearly empty storeroom at the back of Payless Shoes, store No. 5507, tears trickling down her face. The front of the Taos store had few …
Desiree Romero stood in the nearly empty storeroom at the back of Payless Shoes, store No. 5507, tears trickling down her face. The front of the Taos store had few shoes left on the shelves. Signs announcing "50 to 80 percent off" plastered the glass on the storefront. "All sales final" signs hung on the racks.
"This is so emotional," said Romero, who's managed the store for nine years and worked for the company for 11.
Sunday (April 28) is the store's final day. After 23 years in Taos, Payless Shoes will close for good.
"We're still trying to soak it up."
Payless ShoeSource declared bankruptcy in 2017 and despite efforts to restructure, the company announced in mid-February that all its remaining stores in the United States would close, though franchised stores elsewhere in the world will remain open.
Store No. 5507 wasn't immune.
When it closes, Taoseños on a tight budget will have one less place to shop for shoes at a price they can afford. They'll be left with Walmart, Bealls and, for athletic shoes, Big 5 Sporting Goods. "It's really sad. A lot of our customers can't afford to go to Española or Santa Fe to buy shoes," said Lindsay Walkowski, a store clerk, on Friday (April 19), the day they found out the final closing date.
Customers Jude Nunez, her daughter Emily Fateman and granddaughter Skylar shop at Payless frequently. "You can't beat these prices, especially for kids. They grow out of their shoes so fast," said Nunez.
The store's closing will be hard on customers. It will be harder for four women who've worked closely together for several year.
Romero started working for Payless part-time after the birth of her third child 11 years ago. Two years later she was made a full-time manager. Two of the store's staff - Walkowski and assistant manager Valerie Flores - have been with her for nine years. The newest member of the tightknit team, Vanessa Herrera, has been there four years.
The women have been with each other through first births, first birthdays, holidays and family frustrations. Romero's eldest son was seven when she started there. Now he's about to graduate from high school.
"My girls have been with me a long time," Romero said. "That's the other reason this is so emotional.
"We've all become sisters."
Romero said the women prided themselves on providing quality customer service and keeping the store good, clean and organized. Even in the last few days of the store's life, the shoes were lined up in orderly fashion in their boxes on the quickly emptying shelves.
For all the effort, Romero - who started as a manager at $12.87 an hour - said she makes about $13.50 an hour now nearly a decade later. The raises were lousy, though the company did provide subsidized health and dental insurance. Still, every time one of the team was offered a job - and they all were at different times - they chose to stay at Payless and with each other.
Even after the closure was announced, they remained with the store.
"My crew has stayed with me through this process. We're not guaranteed a job after this. They could have definitely just up and left any time. That just shows they are here to the end," Romero said, starting to tear up again.
"We're all going to go in different ways. We're so used to seeing each other every day."
They joke that they're like the band on the Titanic, still playing music as the ship goes down.
Romero doesn't think any of them will have a hard time finding another job in Taos. There are plenty of jobs for people willing to work, she said. Their customers know their work ethic and have already been making them offers.
Still, they don't know how they'll feel when they close and lock the door for the last time on the place where a sisterhood was born. "We're still trying to process that we're closing," Romero said.
"We should all just have mimosas then," said Flores.
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