NORTHEAST ALBERTA has a knack for quietly blossoming small business. The stretch, sitting just far enough uphill to feel a bit like a special trip from other neighborhoods, is one of the city's densest in terms of bars, restaurants, and increasingly retail. This despite the fact that little storefronts seem to appear out of the mist, guaranteed an audience by virtue of place.
The Shoe Store (1603 NE Alberta, theshoestorepdx.com) did not go long without notice. Opened in April by Allan Fish and Kelly Dorius, it focuses explicitly on sneakers: bright, popping editions from Saucony and Gola, Puma and Keds, plus cutting-edge new lines from companies like Unstitched Utilities, whose recycled Tyvek designs look like artfully wrinkled, waxy paper, and are actually water resistant and vegan as well as tastefully unusual.
With roots in the service industry but no particular direct experience in retail or the shoe industry, Fish and Dorius began the shop as a way to explore what was otherwise a hobby after visits to San Francisco and Seattle yielded a variety of cool sneaker specialty stores, which Portland seemed to lack. "We sent out a bunch of emails to different companies," says Dorius, explaining the natural and rather quick trip from concept to opening day. She took a moment from her duties behind the register to talk about the new venture.
MERCURY: Is the emphasis on new designers focusing on vegan and eco-conscious materials and production a reflection of what you're seeing in the industry generally, or is it a specific choice that you're making to highlight?
KELLY DORIUS: It's a little bit of both. Saucony is one of our bestsellers, and they just happened to have a vegan line, and it's done really well for us. A lot of it is just the area we're in and the demographic we want to reach. Take Unstitched Utilities, the recycled line made out of Tyvek. We feel like our client is someone who would be interested in that sort of thing. And even though [we wondered because] they're pretty unusual looking, they've ended up doing really well for us, too. Another, the People's Movement, are out of Solana Beach, California, and the shoes that we're carrying from them are the first line they've ever released. They do a beach cleanup in Bali, and like a lot of our brands, have a cool backstory. We kind of picked them because of that, too.
You keep a tight focus on sneakers, but you have several walls covered in bright, patterned socks (I don't think I saw a single purely solid color). Tell me about your approach to hosiery.
We carry two brands right now, one of which is Socksmith, which are just your basic novelty socks out of California. We also carry Stance, which is a skateboarding brand, and their socks have a lot of extra padding from the heel along the bottom of the foot—they're by far the most comfortable socks I own. Theirs tend to be more toned-down patterns, like polka dots and stripes rather than pictures. And little did we know, but a lot of people know about Stance, and basically no one else in town carries them. We've had people come in specifically because they heard we have them.
Are a lot of your customers involved in skate culture?
When we first opened, we were thinking we were going to have this demographic of mid-20s to mid-30s. And a lot of those people do come in, but as actual buyers, they tend to be women over the age of 50. In the area we're in, there are apparently a lot of women who can afford to buy on impulse, and comfortable shoes come in many shapes and sizes. A lot of our customers will say, "I'll be back after my next paycheck," and I think our store definitely caters more to the younger crowd, but I don't feel like anyone can be too old to shop here.
You've also got a ton of art on the walls. Are you rotating that and otherwise getting in on the Last Thursday event scene?
We rotate it. I think it's a nice way to fill in the store, and we've done DJs on Last Thursdays. Now that they've stopped closing the street, though, it might be time to change it up.