SPRING HILL — Ask Ralph Loffredo what he knows about women's shoes and he shifts in his black tasseled loafers and shrugs. "I don't know the difference between a pump and a high heel," he said.
"Oh, come on, honey, this is a pump and a high heel," his wife, Emily Loffredo, chided him Friday morning as she walked over to a shelf at Abby Shoes and picked up a black specimen.
The Loffredos are retirement planners and part-time commercial landlords who own two Spring Hill shopping plazas. But the footwear gods, depending on how you look at it, have either smiled on or cursed them.
They are shoe salespeople now, and everything must go.
Late last month, a new tenant in their Trinity Center at 11133 County Line Road got within a grand opening of launching Abby Shoes in an 834-square-foot shoebox-shaped corner unit.
The woman signed a yearlong lease, stuck logos on the glass windows and doors and arranged boxes of inventory in neat stacks on two long, floor-to-ceiling shelves — strappy high heels and chunky wedges, ballet flats and thong sandals, faux patent leather pumps. Some were priced as low as $20 and none cost more than $65.
Then the tenant, 27-year-old Ermalinda Aguirre of Tampa, called with shocking news: She'd run into personal problems, and she was walking away from the shoe store.
"She said, 'I'll drop the key off and return the lease,' " Ralph Loffredo, 48, recalled. "It's not like returning something to Walmart. You don't just return a lease."
But the Loffredos made a deal with Aguirre. They would let her out of the lease if she sold them the entire inventory — some 650 pairs — below her wholesale price.
"We're Christian people, and I felt bad for her," said Emily Loffredo, 46. "I figure this way she can move on with her life, get another job and not have this headache."
The Loffredos wouldn't say how much Aguirre owed them for the year. In fact, they wouldn't volunteer her name. The Times found her through public records, but she did not return a message left on her cell phone Friday.
The couple acknowledge they did her a favor, that taking the inventory without paying would have been a better deal for them.
"I couldn't sleep at night," Emily said. "I'm thinking, 'What did we get ourselves into?' "
They got themselves into the shoe business, it seems, if only for a couple of weeks.
At first they tried to figure out how much to discount the merchandise for quick sale. But short of patience and eager to empty the place for another tenant, they decided on an easy solution: Sell each pair for $20.
They already had an eager customer base, leaving stacks of fliers at other businesses in the plaza to announce a liquidation sale set for next week.
When the Loffredos showed up to the store Thursday to prepare, women hustled over from the cafe to investigate. One woman walked back to the sweepstakes cafe, cashed out her roughly $140 winnings and returned to buy some shoes. The couple sold about 20 pairs that day.
They hope to unload the rest by opening the doors at 6 a.m. on Friday and staying open until dark (they still might not have electricity in the unit by then). They'll do it again on June 18. They're willing to see the shoes walk out the door one sale at a time but will entertain offers for the whole lot. Cash only, no refunds.
They're selling the brand-new cash register and the two ornate gold wall mirrors Aguirre had propped up on the floor so customers could model before buying. They're selling the display counter and the artificial houseplant next to it. They're also looking for a new tenant.
Emily Loffredo admits she's not much of a shoe person. She doesn't much like to wear heels anymore. She started to take some pairs for herself, then changed her mind and put the boxes back on the shelf.
"If there's anything left, maybe I'll take them," she said.
The rest, they said, might be bound for the feet of the needy.
Times news researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report. Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or [email protected]