Fourth Ave Birkenstock now sells clothing–organic, natural, breathable cotton shirts, skirts, dresses, and pants, largely focused on two brands: Maggie’s (based in Ypsi) and Earth Creations. “I like things with pretty backs,” nods customer Carolyn Hastings approvingly, browsing through a rack of shirts with an unusual cut around the shoulder.
Fourth Ave Birkenstock is a deceptively specific name for the shop across from the People’s Food Co-op that houses a couple of free-spirited owners with such wide-ranging enthusiasms as chi walking, kite flying, shoe repair, foam mattresses, and now clothing. The plainspoken name is particularly ironic because owners Paul and Claire Tinkerhess have a flair for naming: they came up with their own when they married–he’d been born Paul Tinker and she Claire Hess. So far, Paul’s biggest branding success story was the naming of the Water Hill neighborhood, where he lives. After the couple created the instantly beloved Water Hill Music Festival in 2011, the poetic name quickly caught on with everyone from Realtors to an auto repair shop (the former Bill Muncy’s).
He thought the name was an obvious one: “You can see all the streams on an old map, like Allen’s Creek. And there’s Spring Street, Brooks Street, and the water treatment plant up on what we call ‘Upper Water Hill.’ Then of course the river runs by the back side.” As he tells the story, a woman flies past the store on a bicycle and waves. “Oh, that’s Helaine Hunscher,” he says casually. “She’s still mad at me because I wouldn’t extend the neighborhood to include her house on Linda Vista.”
He and Claire still sell Birks, and Paul repairs them in the back. The store is a remnant of an era when Birkenstock envisioned marketing its shoes via specialty shops, and this store was an experiment. Paul emphasizes that it’s not a franchise. He can sell anything he wants, and no money changed hands, but Birkenstock had a hand in setting it up: “For instance, there’s no padding under the carpet. Birkenstock didn’t want to trick people into thinking that the shoes were softer than they are.”
Over the years, the Tinkerhesses have followed whatever quixotic notion struck their fancy. It used to be Tempurpedic mattresses–seventeen years ago, they were the first in the area to sell them, and now that the foam mattresses have gone mainstream, they’ve stopped carrying them because they take up so much space, though they’ll take orders for them. The space that used to be devoted to beds has been reassigned to clothing, and to a very fancy treadmill: ask Paul about “chi walking,” and you’ll get an earful. You can get the other earful if you ask him about kites.
Fourth Ave Birkenstock, 209 N. Fourth Ave., 663-1644. Mon.-Sat. 10 a.m.-6 p.m., closed Sun. fourthavebirkenstock.com