When a store closes on Larchmont, so much more leaves the street than a business. Lost are the relationships between shop owner and staff and the customers who have become friends over the years.
Last week, we reported that (among other comings and goings) Village Footwear was closing after 19 years on the Boulevard. It was one of the most-read stories we’ve ever published, with more than 9,000 people reading it through our website and Facebook page.
Readers told us they were sad to lose Village Footwear, but they were also mourning the loss of something else — their friends and their sense of neighborhood.
Store owner Evan Veitch and her manager, Wendy N., have been fixtures on the street for nearly two decades. Both Evan and Wendy told us they would miss their customers more than anything else.
“I am going to miss everyone,” said Wendy N. “It’s really been my honor to serve these people. I feel like they are family,” she added.
While I was visiting the store, Wendy was helping fit a customer from Pacific Palisades who’s been shopping at Village Footwear for years. She came in for the final sale, to say goodbye and stock up on her favorite shoes. Then local garden designer Judy Horton came in, saying she’d be back at the end of week with her book club, which meets monthly up the street and has lunch at Prado next door, followed by some shoe shopping.
“In the last 15 years, I’ve never bought shoes anywhere but here,” said Horton, adding that everyone else in the book group is from the West LA and they love shopping here, too. Horton said a chiropractor recommended the store, and told her to talk to Veitch about finding a comfortable pair of shoes that support her back.
A few minutes later, Robin Jameson stopped in with her best friend, who’s visiting from San Francisco. “Wendy has an incredible connection with people,” said Jameson, who’s been shopping at the store since she moved to Windsor Square four years ago. “It’s so comfortable here. My mother loves coming, we do some shopping, speak some Italian. It’s so unique,” she said. “When I read they were leaving, I thought, “Oh please, say it isn’t so!””
Twenty years ago, Veitch left the production business and started working as a buyer for a small group of shoe stores. She quickly realized she was good at it, and opened her shop at 248 N Larchmont Blvd. in 1997.
“I started with getting the most comfortable shoes I could find. I tried on everything I bought,” said Veitch. “I wanted a big price range, so there would be something for everyone who came in the store. I didn’t want anyone to feel like the prices were too high.”
But most importantly, Veitch bought what she liked and what she thought her customers would appreciate. She preferred to deal with small shoe manufacturers who offered great products and good service, and weren’t in department stores, so her customers would know that their shoes were not likely to show up everywhere. Many of the brands she carried were from Europe and were sized differently, so Veitch and Wendy had to be ready with lots of personal service to make sure customers were paired with the right shoes.
Veitch operated a children’s shoe store for about 5 years at 115 N Larchmont, before a substantial rent increase forced her out. Looking back, Veitch said that was the beginning of the era of rising rents on Larchmont, as building owners began to ratchet up their rates. (Joane Pickett took the old kids’ shoe store space and opened up Petticoats for several years. Now it’s home to A Silver Lining Frames.)
But Veitch said the world of retail is also changing. Inventory is more expensive, which is why so many stores don’t stock as much, and more and more customers shop online. As a result, Larchmont is changing too. Small retail stores focused on local clientele are challenged when rents double like they did for Veitch. Also, retail experts say shopping has become more “experiential,” as stores try to become “life-style destinations.”
Where that trend will take Larchmont isn’t clear yet, but according to Veitch, a bakery has already signed a lease to take her space. As for Veitch, she’s not sure what she’ll do next, but she’s collecting emails and contact information from customers, just in case she decides to re-open. For now, everything in the store is on sale. Check it out or just come in to say goodbye and thanks for all the great shoes over the years.