“We have a lot of denim-driven brands,” says Rich Bellas, manager of Van Boven Shoes. The tiny eighty-year-old campus store specializing in quality leather footwear changed hands over the summer. When did denim learn to drive? “Denim-driven” is the current clothing industry euphemism for hipster, Bellas smiles. It means casual, but in a very expensive way, like wearing a pair of Allen Edmonds brogues with jeans.
Hipster chic, multiplied by all the new students living in the area, made Van Boven Shoes seem like an attractive investment to Roger Pothus, owner of Renaissance clothing, who bought the store and for the time being is making few changes, except for bringing in a few accessories.
Pothus doesn’t downplay the problems of running an independent luxury goods storefront or his dismay at the rise of online shopping. “When people buy shoes online, they’re not investing in their community, they’re not making a contribution to the Summer Festival. People move to Ann Arbor because of the quality of life. They want a functioning downtown; they want their kid to have a summer job. But where are the summer jobs if there are no stores left?” That may sound more like someone thinking of exiting a business than entering it, but Pothus is the guy who brought Armani suits to Ann Arbor, and if anyone knows how the luxury goods business maps to Ann Arbor tastes, it’s probably him.
Van Boven Shoes is no longer related to the Van Boven men’s outfitter across the arcade–but neither business cares if customers presume a connection. The only downside, Bellas says, is that people familiar with Van Boven’s haberdashery sometimes think the shoe store carries only men’s brands, when in fact fully half of the stock is women’s shoes.
Those denim-driven brands that are keeping indie shoe stores alive include, for women, Hunter rain boots, Sebago, Gentle Souls, and Eric Michael. For men, there are those Allen Edmonds brogues, and you can’t get much more denim-driven than Wolverine. Made in Grand Rapids, these expensive, classically constructed leather work boots look like Red Wings that inherited old money and got a PhD.
Van Boven Shoes, 17 Nickels Arcade, 665-7240. Mon.-Sat. 9 a.m.-6 p.m., Sun. noon-5.