By Steven Froias
With its stopped clock and unrolling metal accent sign, it’s an intriguing bit of retail ruin porn on Acushnet Avenue. But the back story and history of the address – 1494 – which now bears the sign “Casanova Gift Shop” reveals much more about a time period on The Ave. A time when it was nothing less than the shoe capital of the city.
That’s because not one, not two, but three shoe stores helped define feet in New Bedford and on The Ave, and made people walk this way for generations. The three were Gendron’s Family Shoe Store at 1721 Acushnet Avenue; Champegny’s Shoe Store at 1501 Acushnet Avenue; and Poyant’s Shoe Store at 1494 Acushnet Avenue.
If that last name of Poyant still resonates today, it’s for a very good reason. Poyant Signs in the New Bedford Industrial Park is New England’s largest sign manufacturer. And, if you guessed that once upon a time the company created the distinctive signage which adorned the storefront of Poyant’s Shoe Store, you would of course be correct. Leon Poyant owned the shoe business, while Maurice Poyant owned the sign business.
Poyant’s, Gendron’s and Champegny’s all left their mark on The Ave – though the latter two haven’t left as much physical evidence behind. The Gendron’s catchy jingle only resides in memory. Champegny’s huge, hand-painted banners announcing that week’s sales are long gone.
Yet, all three shoe stores had an undeniable impact on the culture of Acushnet Avenue.
For one, all three spotlight the important role the French-Canadian community played in the north end of New Bedford. Each of the stores were owned by folks who shared that heritage.
And, while consumer tastes shifted as the ‘70s gave way to the ‘80s and retail fled to the malls, shoes and The Ave still remain a good fit.
Today’s Guatemalan community stocks its bodegas and convenience stores with both sneakers and other footwear, like its signature “cowboy” boots.
Meanwhile, The Glass Slipper has thrived for 30 years on Acushnet Avenue, bucking the historical retail trend.
And, in a twist of fate, it’s located at none other than 1721 Acushnet Avenue…the address formerly known as…Gendron’s Family Shoe Store.
Perhaps that stopped clock at Casanova Gift Shop, once known as Poyant’s Shoe Store, is telling the right time after all….and the time is back to the future on Acushnet Avenue.
- Addressing Acushnet Avenue is a series that will look at the forgotten history of select buildings on north end New Bedford’s unique commercial corridor. More than an exercise in nostalgia, its purpose is to place current-day Acushnet Avenue into context and help promote the values of this diverse urban neighborhood.
Special thanks to Danielle Poyant and Carl Simmons for providing images for this post.