HOMEWOOD – S.G. Shaia, a Lebanese immigrant, began peddling notions and household goods in 1905 in Jefferson, Shelby and Walker counties. In 1922, he moved his family from the southside of Birmingham to lots he purchased on a dirt road in the “boondocks.” There, he built a store, a home and established a garden of figs and grapevines.
Four years later, in 1926, the dirt road became part of the incorporated city of Homewood. Four generations later, S.G.’s great grandson, Ken, runs Shaia’s, an upscale international menswear store on the same site as the founder’s garden and home and in the heart of what is now one of Alabama’s busiest retail districts.
During an 11:15 a.m. in-store presentation today, the Alabama Retail Association recognized Shaia’s as an Alabama Centennial Retailer. The business at 2818 18th St. S. received a bronze plaque and a certificate marking its 100th year.
“Each generation has added to the store,” in content and appearance, said J.L. Shaia, Ken’s father and the third generation of the Shaia family to operate the business.
“It was a general mercantile store at first,” J.L. said. “Our first business license says cigarettes and bottle drinks.” S.G.’s wife, Badia, ran the store while S.G. continued to peddle until 1930. In 1933, A.J. Shaia, the second generation, took over from his mother and father. By then, the store’s name and focus shifted to Shaia’s Dry Goods. Under A.J.’s leadership, the business evolved into a junior department store.
As Homewood grew, the Shaia home was remodeled for business use (1938), and, in 1941, a store was built for Lane Rexall Drug Co. where the Shaias’ figs and grapevines once grew.
J.L. and his brother, Leo, began working full time in the family business in the mid-to-late 1950s. By 1955, Rexall had left and Shaia’s moved from its original location to the former garden-turned-drug-store space, staying within the Shaia property.
The brothers “wanted (the business) to move away from the department store type of merchandise. So in 1964, we closed the store for two weeks, totally remodeled the interior and opened back up as a men’s store,” said J.L.
The brothers stocked their business with the top brands in the world. Leo retired in 2015 at age 75. J.L. remained active in the day-to-day until 2020. On July 17 during New York menswear market week, a trade publication for men’s retail honored J.L. with its Lifetime Achievement award.
Ken Shaia, J.L.’s son, joined the family business in 1986, adding even more European designers and, with his father and uncle, bringing recognition to the store by the early 2000s as one of the “Most Exciting Menswear Stores in America.”
In a 1996 store renovation, Ken suggested paying homage to the family garden with a sculpted metal grapevine that winds around the door handle. In 2011, the original Shaia’s home that had been converted into business use was incorporated into Shaia’s as a designer concept shop. That adaptive reuse, which includes the rafters of S.G.’s home, won a merit award from the American Institute of Architects Birmingham in 2013.
“The greatest lesson I’ve learned from my dad is to create value for the people you work with, that doing this will pay dividends,” said Ken. He also learned “our customers’ needs are ever changing” and to listen to those needs and evolve.
Alabama Retail Association President Rick Brown said, “For a business to survive the dramatic changes of the past century is a remarkable achievement. It is fitting to celebrate the enduring first-century contributions Shaia’s has made to Homewood and the surrounding communities.” Shaia’s has been an Alabama Retail Association member since 1992.
The Alabama Retail Association represents retailers, the largest private employer in the state of Alabama, before the Alabama Legislature and the U.S. Congress. Through sales of food, clothing, furniture, medicine and more, our 4,300 independent merchant and national company members touch almost every aspect of daily living. Since 1943, we’ve worked to promote what’s best for the retail industry in Alabama. Whether voicing the retail view when public policy is made, educating members about issues that impact them, negotiating rates for benefits and services or communicating the retail story, the Alabama Retail Association and its members are better together.