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Stitching the Northside's sole

By Charlie Patton, The Florida Times-Union

A lot has changed since Altamae Pinkney first shopped at Phil's Shoes 48 years ago. In those days, the shoe store occupied a tiny space in a bustling shopping center. With an A&P grocery as its anchor, Pearl's Plaza, at 44th and Pearl streets, was filled with successful retail stores. But Phil's (named for original owner Phil Lewis), with its wide range of women's shoes, caught Pinkney's eye and she became a loyal customer of three generations of the Lewis family ownership: first Phil, then his son, Sam; and finally Sam's son, Mark.

Besides changing owners, Phil's got bigger, taking over spaces vacated by other retailers. As the years passed, there were plenty of vacant spaces, especially after the A&P closed in the early 1980s. But the Lewises stayed, even as the shopping center deteriorated and the surrounding neighborhood declined.  Mark, who remembers sweeping the store as a child, said his father advised him not to go into the shoe business. But he ignored that advice. "Once it's in your blood, it's in your blood," he said. So 14 years ago, after he had worked at various other shoe stores, his father asked him to help run Phil's. "I love this business," Mark said. "The best part is my customers. Tell me another job where you get to talk to women all day long."

The store's success has been built on good customer service and a huge inventory of fashionable women's shoes, including hard to find sizes, Pinkney said. "I wear a size 11," she said. "I've always loved pretty shoes but they're not easy to find anywhere else." "If you're a woman in Jacksonville, you know about Phil's Shoes," Gaffney said.Phil's has a reputation of "If it can't be found at Phil's, it can't be found!"

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