Tom's Shoes VeniceLet’s face it, retail has changed significantly since the election of Donald Trump last year, along with the growing preference by the consumer for online shopping. Are we scared to go out, or do we just like the comforts of home better than our local shops? In New York last month, I overheard twenty something’s on their commute home, ordering groceries from their phones, rather than stopping by the store. 

Are we looking for value, by competitively shopping online, or convenience, so we can still watch our favorite network series uninterrupted? Or maybe we can’t stand the crowds, or looking for parking, and just want to chill. Maybe the in-person shopping experience just can’t compete. And when we do venture out, what are we looking for? Is it entertainment and who can impress us the most with their offerings? Or is it for the experience of what we will learn from a personal connection? Do we want to remain anonymous when we shop and explore, or do we want to be engaged?

These are just some of the thoughts that crossed my mind as I set out to visit stores and store owners this month, instead of having a booth at the Las Vegas Market, and waiting for store owners to come see me. I took a break from exhibiting 12 Small Things in Las Vegas this summer, as the set-up in the desert is such hard work, and the expense wasn’t quite justifying my revenues the past couple of shows. Plus, the sales that we did make to retailers, as grateful as I was, were somewhat uninformed, as I really didn’t know the territories I was selling to.


What are the best stores for 12 Small Things to sell to, and how could I find out? I surveyed my artisan vendors as to which west coast stores they would ideally like to be in, and made a plan to start visiting different territories as much as possible over the summer. My first stop was Oakland, and oh how this city has changed. I had fun poking around Temescal Alley with the hipsters and makers, but the shops were still fairly quiet, and I worried about the owners making their rent. I loved visiting Dejumo, Owl N Wood, Marion and Rose in the beautifully restored Old Town, and Maison D'Etre and Atomic Garden in Rockridge. 


My next destination was Los Angeles, and I rented a car and drove down the coast to see what La La Land held for independent retailers. I stopped along the way in Santa Barbara, where the college students and their parents dictate much of the retail demand, with chain stores for teen apparel and Bed&Bath for dorm supplies. But there is also an affluent home owner with great taste ready to spend money on their home and gifts, and no one provides a better shopping experience for them than Upstairs at Pierre La Fond.


Driving down to Los Angeles, I was reminded by the shift of focus to one’s personal appearance that plays a larger role in this southern city, where more surface is exposed. I was definitely wearing too many layers that I eventually peeled off as I stopped first in Silver Lake to see my friend Cy and her whimsical store Yolk. I met Cy at the Las Vegas World Market where we shared our common interest in showcasing handmade, fair trade products in our stores, along with the artists that make them. I walked a little more around the area and stopped in Lawson Fenning, where I coveted their display, Lake Boutique and the Mohawk General Store, where I could have visually shopped all day. I loved the quote on their wall, "I  went to a general store and they wouldn't let me buy anything specific", by Steven Wright.


And then I headed over to Santa Monica to check out a few more stores including Exir Home, where I found a whole rack of Creative Women's textiles for sale, and Tent, who was selling some of my favorite baskets by Makaua, and Live Style, who was selling everything under the sun, all at once, complete with a cafe.

The next day I headed over to Venice to check out Abbot Kinney Road, and was delighted to find it lived up to the hype, if you can get past the $250 price tag for a pair of ripped denim shorts. I had a nice chat with the sales folks at Industry of All Nations, who are pioneering green, fair trade, sustainably made clothing including denim, which is no easy task. I also chatted with the women at Salt and Bazar and the gentleman at Chariots on Fire, where I again lusted after their beautiful displays and bought a linen tea towel from Lapuan Kankurit, designed by the artist Makoto Kagoshima.


I wandered into Tom's Shoes which was actually a coffee bar bustling with customers sipping their lattes, chatting with friends and working on their computers. And by the way, there were some shoes along the walls if you wanted to buy a pair. So this is where all the customers have gone, to coffee shops, one by one. I realized it was time for a quick lunch to replenish my strength and people watch, and then headed back out to see Burro, Tumbleweed and Dandelion, where I enjoyed touring their multiple cottage rooms of home decor, The Piece Collective where I found wall hangings by The Dharma Door and finally Grow, which was the end of the line for my throbbing feet. As the sun started to set for the day, I found a Whole Foods for an instant pickup meal and drove back to my Air B&B in Laurel Canyon, hoping to feel the vibes of Joni Mitchell and Graham Nash to sooth me to sleep.


The next morning I stopped by Glendale Boulevard to see Individual Melody, Treehaus and Avion Clothier. I also happened upon deKor and so appreciated their arrangement of handbags and chairs on the wall. Before heading home for San Francisco I sought out New Stone Age. Founded in 1982 by Fran Ayres and Susan Skinner who met while working at the Los Angeles Craft and Folk Art Museum, and opened up their boutique showcasing the handcrafted work of American craftspeople. I bought a blue tin whale made in Los Angeles from a recycled printing ink drum well, and spoke to the sales manager about just how tough retail had become. I left worrying about the future of such an iconic, great store.


Arriving back to my brick and mortar showroom and store at 12 Small Things in Bernal Heights San Francisco, I immediately wanted to break down my office wall and expand the store to include a long table for working space and add a beverage and snack garden in the back courtyard. My husband reminded me that I was also in the wholesale rep business and might just need my office to work in. We will have to revisit that another time!


October 06, 2017 by Laurie Kanes