A Passion for Shoes

A Mother’s Day tale of two mothers, two daughters, and their thriving retail businesses.



Photograph by Andrea Zucker

All women,” Oscar Wilde once said, “become like their mothers.” This may be debatable, but it holds true for Jane and Peria Gober, and for Lucy Woodson and Neely Woodson Powell, two Memphis mother/daughter pairings who share keen senses of style and beauty along with surefire entrepreneurial spirit. Both families share something else as well: a passion for shoes. Here, in honor of mothers everywhere, is a quick look at these two families and their bustling businesses, Peria, Inc. and the Savannah Shoe Company.

 

Jane Gober and Peria Gober

Perhaps you’ve noticed the Peria’s logo on advertising around town — that cute high-heeled shoe on billboards telling us to “put some zing in our spring.” The Peria behind Peria’s shoe store is in fact Peria Gober, a lifelong Midtown resident, who opened her shop at the corner of Belvedere and Union just over four years ago. Her mother Jane has an estate-sale business which itself was a natural outgrowth of her volunteer work at the Junior League thrift shop. Peria says that her mother’s sense of color and style has long inspired her — that, along with the fact that her Mom is always coming up with new ideas for fetching and flattering footwear.

Jane in turn tells us that ever since Peria begged for pink Converse hightops at the ripe old age of 7, it was clear “shoes were in her daughter’s future!” She strongly encouraged her daughter to open her own business; since then, the two have had wonderful times together on buying trips to Atlanta, Las Vegas, and Dallas.

We dropped in on Peria one day recently at her namesake store and were bowled over by the bright and cheery colors, not to mention the artful arrangement of shoes, hats, jewelry, and other accessories. Walking into Peria’s feels a bit like walking into a dazzling magic kingdom, complete with an entry bower of flowers and the princess carriage in the back. Peria Gober loves shoes and believes her store fills a niche market that had been left unfilled in Memphis. She is particularly drawn to shoes with playful embellishments — bows, flowers, and sparkles — and willingly admits that she oftentimes has a hard time saying no to cute.

The really good news is that these trendy, stylish, and, yes, cute shoes are priced affordably in a world of budget-bustin’ Manolos and Louboutins. The footwear brands Peria carries include Poetic Licence, Matisse, Sam Edelman, Sacha London, and French Sole, and she makes a special effort to stock lines that nobody else has. In addition, much of her jewelry is made by local artists such as Olga King and Debra Barnes. Peria also is deeply committed to the Memphis community and offers her time and wares to charitable organizations such as Dress for Success, Le Bonheur, the Junior League, and Boys and Girls Clubs.

While we were in the store, as if on cue, Dorothy Gunther Pugh, director of Ballet Memphis, came in for some retail therapy, telling us, “I love this store because it sells happy, lovely shoes at nice prices.” Pugh added that Peria’s reminded her of favorite boutiques in San Francisco. How’s that for high praise?

 

Lucy Woodson and Neely Woodson Powell

The Woodsons’ inspiration came from a bit further afield, some 15 years ago when Memphis’ own Lucy Woodson fell under the spell of the beautiful colonial city of San Miguel de Allende in Mexico. She fell in love, too, with the beautiful painted tin wares being sold on the street, which led to her importing these products to sell in the United States. Her designer wholesale company, Worlds Away, based here in town, has grown exponentially; she now has factories in Mexico making specially designed products for Worlds Away, including planters, lamps, coffee tables, mirrors, and other beautiful accessories.

Meanwhile, Lucy’s daughter Neely Powell was attending Hutchison and the College of Charleston. After graduation, she took a course in shoe design at the Savannah College of Art and Design, making the next step (pun intended) very logical: opening a shoe store in Savannah, Georgia.

That was in May 2010. From the seeds of this original idea has sprung a wildly successful three-store mini-empire called the Savannah Shoe Company and the Charleston Shoe Company, with a Charleston store now complementing the Savannah original, and another location in the city market scheduled to open in Charleston in June. Neely Powell’s shops feature a comfortable, rubber-soled, and inexpensive shoe from San Miguel (think Mexican espadrille), first discovered by her mother, which has proven very popular with her customers — all the better for navigating charming, cobblestoned streets. In fact, the tagline for her businesses is “The Cobblestones to Cocktails Shoe.” Powell has introduced 36 new styles of the San Miguel shoe, in 28 colors and 16 heel heights, and has been fortunate to tap into the walk-in tourist trade in both cities, especially in Charleston where cruise ships and a flourishing art scene attract thousands of regular visitors.

Neely is the wife of well-known Memphis interior designer Biggs Powell and mother of 3-year old Gigi. Husband Biggs has now opened a design store in a space adjacent to her Charleston Shoe Company store on King Street. Living between Charleston and Memphis is a balancing act for the family, but it clearly agrees with Neely.

“My goal is to provide comfortable, versatile, great-looking, affordable shoes to women,” says Neely on her website. “There are so many women who want to look fabulous, but have constant issues with their feet. I want to remedy that. Shoes do not have to look bad to feel good!”

Lucy Woodson looks back and reflects that “there was a certain inevitability about all this, since Neely was practically raised at my clothing store, Tallulah’s, in Overton Square.” They later worked together at the family’s acclaimed resort on Little Palm Island off the Florida coast. But for the record, don’t think for a minute that Lucy herself has let any grass grow under her feet. Two months ago, she consolidated her downtown store (Worlds Away) and her midtown outlet (Worlds Apart), which sells damaged and discontinued items, into a huge new space on Hollywood across from the Children’s Museum. She invites everyone to come and have a look around. Some of Neely’s shoes will be on hand, and if you can’t find what you want, they can be ordered at www.savannahshoeco.com.

Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose. One thing is certain. With bright young entrepreneurial talents like Gober and Powell tripping the light fantastic on the retail scene, Memphis (not to mention our Southern sisters, Savannah and Charleston) are shoo-ins for shoe shopping. 

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