A 25-year-old man with a rural upbringing and a chemistry degree showed up on King Street to sell shoes in 1950.
Morris Kalinsky's father, who ran a successful department store in Holly Hill, urged his son to buy Bob Ellis Shoes. Kalinsky didn't draw a salary for seven years but, in the decades that followed, would become one of the most recognized names in retail footwear.
Kalinsky was born May 30, 1924. He died Saturday at age 86 and is survived by his wife, Sybil, two sons and three grandchildren.
Amid hot pink and bright yellow "Spring has Sprung" signs in the store windows Saturday afternoon, another note hung on each door: "We will be closed today in honor of our founder and president, Morris Kalinsky. Thank you for understanding. The Kalinsky family and Bob Ellis."
The Fashion Footwear Association voted Kalinsky best retailer in the United States in 1992, the same year the Italian Trade Commission bestowed upon him the Michelangelo Shoe Award given to the top U.S. retailer of Italian footwear.
In 2004, Footwear News magazine, a weekly trade publication, named Bob Ellis one of the top 50 retailers in the country -- the only independent store on a list that included Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue.
Asked when he met Kalinsky, Charleston Mayor Joe Riley said, "It's almost like I never didn't know him."
"His wonderful store became such a vital flagship for King Street and such an important pa rt of its stability and its revitalization," Riley said. "He was such a proud and devoted Charlestonian who made a huge and positive impact on our city."
A founding member of Tidelands Bank, Kalinsky served on several local boards, including the Charleston Symphony Orchestra, the Charleston Jewish Federation and the Medical University of South Carolina Heart and Vascular Center.
Longtime King Street clothing merchant Henry Berlin of Berlin's for Men and Women said Saturday that he would miss Kalinsky. He first met the retailer when, as boys, they attended Hebrew school together.
"You don't find people with that much retail savvy coming out these days," Berlin said. "The thing about him was how much he was involved with his business and really sort of lived his business. He really had style."
A third-generation retailer whose children now run his store, Berlin remembered Kalinsky for following fashion trends "up to the last minute" in his own clothing and shoes.
"I saw him recently in the hospital," Berlin said. "As sick as he was, he still was sharp."