PEI

After 60 years, Corney's Shoe Store closes its doors for good

Walking the lower end of Queen Street in downtown Charlottetown looks a little bit different — and that isn’t just because of COVID-19.

Corney's Shoe Store in Charlottetown is no more

Brown paper now lines the windows of Corney's Shoe Store in downtown Charlottetown. (Tony Davis/CBC)

Walking the lower end of Queen Street in downtown Charlottetown looks a little bit different — and it's not just because of COVID-19.

A store with a 60-year history on the Island closed its doors back in February, right before the pandemic hit the province.

Corney's Shoe Store was opened in 1958 by Hollis Corney and his ex-wife Flora Graham. At one point there were five locations in the Maritimes.

Athol Corney, one of Hollis's sons, said the shop meant a lot to the family.

"For myself, my two other brothers, it was just like a playground for us," he said. "From the time we could walk, we knew about the store."

More than footwear

When the shop first opened, it didn't just sell shoes and boots — they also made uniforms, Corney said.

Hollis Corney and his ex-wife Flora Graham started the shoe store. They are pictured here with their sons JR, Athol and Delmar Corney. (Submitted by JR Corney)

"When they first started, it was really big, the uniform thing. Like gas stations, you had the milkmen, burner people," he said.

"They got to do a lot of things, they got to meet a lot of people."

Corney's Shoe Store used to be on the other side of Queen Street, but in 1991 that location was lost to a fire and it moved to the storefront where it was until closing up shop.

The internet took a lot of business from the small retailer, that hurt him.— Athol Corney

Hazel MacMillan was a co-owner of the shoe store. She worked in the shop for about 58 years and lived with Hollis Corney as his common-law partner.

"It took a long time to get going again, we lost all the stock and everything," she said. 

"Had to build up from the ground up."

Brush with celebrity

Corney said the shop also helped out with costumes for actors at the Confederation Centre, sold boots to former P.E.I. premiers and some footwear even ended up on some famous feet.

"Graham Nash, Crosby, Stills and Nash. He came into the store one time … and he bought boots from us," Corney said.

"I sold him the boots and he said 'would you mind taking us around Charlottetown.'" 

Corney's Shoe Store's original Queen Street location in 1971. (Submitted by JR Corney)

Corney said he and his brother met up with Nash and his promoter later on that day.

They all went up to the Charlottetown Mall and Nash signed copies of the American Dream album, Corney said.

"That was one of the great experiences that I had."

'That hurt him'

Corney said his father has dementia and that, along with other factors, was the reason the shop closed in February.

Corney's Shoe Store before closing down in Febuary. (Corney's Shoe Store/Facebook)

"The internet took a lot of business from the small retailer, that hurt him," Corney said. 

"A lot of his customers, they were retired, they weren't working as much, they were travelling more."

I'm still in shock really that we weren't able to keep it.— Hazel MacMillan

MacMillan said Hollis was the store and many customers would come in to deal with him directly.

"He wasn't with it the last few years," she said. "I never thought he'd get out of the store. He wished to work all hours. When he couldn't remember anything it was sad to see that."

'Very eerie'

Corney said COVID-19 didn't play into the decision to close, and luckily the shop sold all of its stock to another business before the pandemic jeopardized the deal.

MacMillan worked until the last day the store was open and said it was "very eerie" closing down shop.

"I really couldn't believe it was actually going to happen."

Hazel MacMillan and Hollis Corney worked in Corey's Shoe Store together for over 50 years. (Submitted by Delmar Corney)

She said customers also couldn't believe it was closing.

"We had really dedicated customers," she said. "They couldn't really believe it would actually go. Anyway, I certainly miss it."

She said the helping customers was her favourite part of the job.

"They came from all over," she said.

MacMillan said she is just waiting for everyone to realize Corney's Shoe Store is actually gone.

"I'm still in shock really that we weren't able to keep it."

More from CBC P.E.I.

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