Shoe shine company loses stalls after 60 years at MSP

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

MINNEAPOLIS — A longtime shoe-shine company will polish its latest pairs in Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

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

As a result, Royal Zeno Shoe Shine came 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. There’s a lot of emotion in right now,” said Rosemary Zeno, owner of Royal Zeno Shoe. Shine and Royal Zeno’s daughter.

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

But Monday’s meeting had a different outcome.

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

MSP Airport will go from five shoe shine stands to three.

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

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

The group evaluated the proposals using criteria that weighed customer experience and overall management and operating experience above other factors, such as rent, and recommended awarding a concession agreement to one of the three proposing suppliers.

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

DG Express and Royal Zeno are black-owned businesses. During the meeting, Gloria Weinblatt asked, “Why do you pit minority companies against minority companies?”

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

“Change is not easy and obviously there were certainly a lot of people who were passionate about it, but I think the staff did the right thing. I think they did their due diligence. I think that we tried to understand some of the reasons why the recommendation was made as is,” Ginsberg said.

After the vote, Rosemary told KARE 11, “I was stabbed in the back. Yes, I did. I’m angry.”

The change will affect 11 employees of Royal Zeno Shoe Shine.

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

“I’m very disappointed right now. I still have my bills to pay. I don’t have a job. Twenty-four years old…I don’t have a job. I’m sad,” Gray said.

According to Rosemary, their last day at MSP airport will be September 30. They will still operate at Union Depot in St. Paul.

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

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