Shoe shine business loses stands after 60 years at MSP

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Royal Zeno Shoe Shine lost its spot at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport after 60 years in business.

MINNEAPOLIS — A longtime shoe shine business will be polishing its last pairs at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. 

In a unanimous vote on Monday afternoon, the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) awarded a three-year contract solely to DG Express Professional Shoe Shine. 

As a result, Royal Zeno Shoe Shine is out after 60 years. 

“Very emotional… I’m hurt. I don’t even have the words right now because it’s hurt, it’s anger, it’s frustration. A lot of emotions going on right now,” said Rosemary Zeno, owner of Royal Zeno Shoe Shine and the daughter of Royal Zeno. 

Royal Zeno started his business at the airport in 1962. The business made national news when in 1998, MAC wanted a new vendor. Royal fought it and won. After he died in 2008, Rosemary continued her father’s legacy. 

But Monday’s meeting had a different outcome. 

Currently, DG Express has two stands while Royal Zeno has three. 

MSP Airport will be going from five shoe shine stands, down to three.

“We had an extremely high number of shoe shines for the level of service,” said Isabella Rhawie, assistant director of concessions and business development at MAC. 

The Request for Proposals (RFP) process began earlier this year with a selection committee made up of MAC staff and a MAC commissioner. 

The group evaluated the proposals using criteria that weighed customer experience and overall management and operations experience above other factors, like rent, and made a recommendation to award a concession agreement to one of the three proposing vendors.

“The revenue side wasn’t as important because not a lot of people are using this particular service. So they started to look at things like customer service. How are customers feeling? Do they present themselves well? Customers feel good about it? And then the way the business is managed. When all of those things were put together and voted on by the committee, they decided to go with the other operator,” explained Commissioner Richard Ginsberg. 

Both DG Express and Royal Zeno are Black-owned businesses. During the meeting, Gloria Weinblatt asked, “Why are you pitting minority business against minority business?”

More data behind the decision will be made public once the contract is finalized. 

“Change isn’t easy and obviously there were certainly a lot of people impassioned about it, but I believe the staff did the right thing. I think they did their due diligence. I think we tried to get at some of the reasons why the recommendation was made the way it was,” Ginsberg said. 

After the vote, Rosemary told KARE 11, “I’ve been stabbed in my back. Yes, I have. I’m angry.”

The change will impact 11 employees with Royal Zeno Shoe Shine. 

After 24 years with the company, Sherman Gray will need to find a new job. 

“I’m very disappointed right now. I’ve got my bills to still pay. I have no job. Twenty-four years… I have no job. I’m sad,” Gray said. 

According to Rosemary, their final day at MSP Airport will be on Sept. 30. They will still be operating at Union Depot in St. Paul. 

“I’m going to hold up my head up high and I’m going to keep going,” Rosemary said. “The Royal Zeno Shoe Shine legacy will live on. We’ll continue on.”

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