Historic Dan Bros. Discount Shoes to remain open under new owner

S. Baltimore shop hopes to draw younger crowd

January 15, 2001|By Jamie Manfuso | Jamie Manfuso,SUN STAFF

The shelves are mostly empty, and shoppers are scarce. But Dan Bros. Discount Shoes is back in business.

The nearly 70-year-old South Baltimore fixture at 1032 S. Charles St. did not close as expected, but instead changed hands and is getting a face lift.

Amir Nia, a Rockville man who is a shoe importer, took over the business Jan. 1.

In early November, local celebrities and dignitaries bid adieu to Dan Bros. in what was supposed to be its going-out-of-business sale. The store unloaded all but roughly 60 of the 12,000 pairs of shoes left in the store, at prices ranging from $20 to $1,700.

Nia plans to keep the repair shop, and also sell some clothes such as leather jackets.

He met Dan Bros.' founder Dan Rufo 1 1/2 years ago when he sold Rufo shoes. Rufo died in April, and his family took over the business. Rufo's daughter and son-in-law, Linda and Keith Heaps, decided to sell the store so they could focus on other business ventures.

"I liked Dan very much; I like the whole family," Nia said. "I told his daughter, `If I buy the building, I'll keep your father's name.'"

Nia kept his word, and even has a picture of Rufo hanging in his office.

Nia said he wants to make the store "more fashionable." In earlier visits, he said, he was struck by the fact that while South Baltimore and Federal Hill are bustling with young people, an older crowd frequented the store. He hopes that by marketing his line of Italian-made shoes and other items he'll attract the younger crowd while keeping the store's traditional customer base.

He purchased property next to Dan's, where he'll store his line of shoes before shipping them around the country. "This is just a lab for me," Nia said of the store, "testing the shoes and seeing where they are doing good."

The store will continue to carry many of the brands that Dan's carried under previous ownership. Shipments are coming in regularly, and Nia plans to have 5,000 pairs of shoes in stock by March. And he promises that service will remain the same.

For years, Dan's has been a favorite of pro athletes, politicians and entertainers from Baltimore and beyond. It also held a place in the hearts of neighborhood residents and businesses. Dan Bros. Discount Shoes was the kind of place where people could come in with their pets.

"Even if they're carrying a rabbit, we don't turn them down," said Harry Kalinsky, who has worked at the store for nearly 30 years.

Laura Lee Dillon, a hair designer down the street at Four Seasons Hair Company, was happy the repair shop would remain open. "We take shoes over any time for the little things," she said.

Janet Felder stopped in Friday afternoon. She couldn't find much reason to browse the mostly empty shelves. But Felder, 49, who said she has shopped at Dan's since she was 18, is glad the store will remain open. She has a lot of memories tied up with the old place.

"If you came in here with $50 and the shoes cost $65, you got them for $50," she said.

Nia won't guarantee such discounts, but he hopes to keep the store's character.

"We all come and go, but this place stays where it is," Nia said.

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