We recently had the pleasure of speaking to Ms. Kathy Flynn manager of the Alden DC shoe shop. Ms. Flynn was kind enough to take time out of her schedule to answer a few questions about the history, location, and future of Alden and her store. The brand is alive and well in DC and beyond and we're happy to bring you the inside scoop.
IG - Tell us about your background and how you became interested in classic men's footwear. When and where did you get your start selling shoes? How did you come to be the manager of the DC Alden shop?
Kathy Flynn -
About 25 years ago I moved from California with my family to upstate New York and I happened to go into a shoe repair store called the Delmar Bootery to have my shoe fixed and there were two women running it. It seemed like a really interesting place.
I was reading the local paper one day and I saw there was a job fair and I thought this would be something fun to do until I went back to my regular job of teaching. They were looking to hire someone and they wanted to open another store and sell quality men's shoes. We ended up seeking out Alden. We really didn't know that much about the brand at the time but that's where I started selling Alden's. That's where I learned about shoe care.
I wouldn't classify myself as a cobbler but I've done lots of polishing and trimming and we all pitched in. We learned to look at the guts of a shoe and the construction and I think that's what really drew us to Alden shoes. I was there for 17 years when I heard Alden was thinking of opening a shop in DC. I gave them a call and told them I'd be interested in managing the store. So I came to DC in 2001 and have been here ever since.
The first Alden shop was located on K St. What necessitated the move? How has the store and customer base changed sine the new location opened?
KF -The K street store was a very small space; about half the size of what we have now. In the end we had to move since our building was torn down. There weren't a lot of options for us to choose from around K street so we came to Penn Quarter and its been wonderful. There is a big mix here and its a very vibrant area. A lot of offices, retail, and residential properties which keeps us busy. We weren't even open on Saturdays on K street and now its one of our busiest days.
How are the individual Alden shops i.e. San Francisco and NYC related to the factory in Massachusetts? What is the relationship like between the individual resellers?
As far as I know San Fransisco started out as an independent shop but was purchased by Alden in 2006. This store in DC has always been connected to the Alden factory. There are other locations also such as the shop in NYC on Madison avenue. Sky Valet in Georgetown is another independent retailer here in DC. Alden has been open to the independent retailer set up. My personal feeling is the more exposure for the brand the better for everybody. Although there is a different clientele in the Georgetown they offer a wonderful shoe repair and I've bought some shoes from them myself.
Why doesn't DC have an online and/or social media presence?
Since Alden is such a small company I'm not sure the effort needed to be put into that would be worth it. Some of the retailers like San Francisco do have websites, but some of others do not sell as well. Overall I think the Internet is a viable option.
Its very easy to find out who we are and where we over the Internet.
While the customer can't see all of what we have in stock they could call us and we can send them a picture. Alden is what we call a heritage brand. It used to be for people who have experienced it in their lifetime and they passed it down from generation to generation, but now with the Internet social media its kind of exploded everywhere.
How have the collaborations with stores like Leather Soul and J. Crew helped the brand? Has the process been beneficial? Where do you see the collaboration scene going from here?
KF - One exception is Leather Soul. I think everybody is familiar with them. They are another example of raising the level of exposure. J.Crew is another exception. They've brought in a younger customer who we might not see until they've reached their 40's.
IG - What is available in store to the DC customer? Does Alden take custom orders?
KF - We show everything that is stocked by the factory. Maybe not every size and width, but we could get it in a few days. The difference between us and other retailers like Leather Soul is that if they make something up in their store we won't carry it. On the other hand we will have stock that they may not have. Everything is stocked at the factory. The retailers place an order and however many pairs were requested will be shipped directly to that location. We often exchange shoes between stores. If I can't get it or if there is a size that I don't have I can go to the other stores. Often customers will get fitted at Leather Soul or Epaulet so they'll know there size when they come to us.
IG - What make ups are coming new this Fall? Any thing we should be excited about?
KF - There is a #8 shell cordovan slipper set to be released. It was just something that Alden made up and thought they'd give it a try. The New york store makes it. Twice a year in Spring (April) and Fall (Sept) we can do make ups. If they're approved by the factory a small run will be made and we'll see how they go. Perhaps someone will buy it.
IG - What are the best sellers for DC men?
KF - There really isn't one best seller any longer. The tassel used to be king years ago. When we first started out our selection was a little small. I think because of where we are and who we sell to cap toes are always going to be the big thing, usually in shell cordovan. In calfskin the Balmoral is our number one black lace up shoe.We have a lot customers who like the hand sewn leisure moccasin usually in shell. It tends to be one of our most popular shoes and the full strap penny loafer in black calfskin and then color 8 Cordovan. Then you get into the casual options and it can be all over the place.
The Chukka is a big seller, probably even more so on the west coast along with the plain toe Blucher. DC certainly has more of a formal look.
IG - Is there a reason Alden does not make a double monk?
KF - I have no idea. They probably just don't have a pattern for it. Maybe its that the single strap has been so successful.
Full strap Penny loafers and Indy Boots
Discontinued models on display
Suede Derbies in chocolate and sand
Oiled calfskin tassel loafers with water lock soles
Chocolate suede longwing Bluchers
Reverse Chamois hand sewn double soled leisure Mocassin
Chocolate suede tassel loafer
Aldens on Aldens on Aldens