March 24, 2019

Out of Town

Sick and tired of reading me blog about retail store closings? Well, I'm not done yet! A mere two months into 2019, retailers across Canada and the US have already announced a total of over 4000 store closures (including Payless ShoeSource, hah). While this retail apocalypse spells the loss of countless jobs, I believe the landscape is being rebuilt for the better. Once the dust settles, the brands who truly offer something of value will remain standing. And those who don't -- I'm sorry, but good riddance. We are on the verge of witnessing the rebirth of retail, and while I don't know exactly what that rebirth will look like, I am excited to find out.

For the most part, I have not been surprised by the stores which have flailed and fallen. They were all brands which I had a hunch would one day face the Grim Reaper. Yet the news of Designer Shoe Warehouse closing all of its Town Shoes stores did give me pause.

I wasn't surprised Town Shoes was closing -- it had its weaknesses after all, which I will get to -- but I was surprised it ended up being so vulnerable to the shifting proclivities of consumers. I rarely shopped there myself, but whenever I went on the hunt for new shoes, I always put Town Shoes on my list of stores to visit. It had neither the trendy predictability of brands like Aldo or Spring, nor the eye-bulging price tags of higher end footwear. What Town Shoes managed to offer was variety. It carried shoes I couldn't find elsewhere, and if I hounded a pair of shoes enough, I could catch them on a good sale. In fact, Town Shoes was invaluable to fulfilling my office footwear needs. Ironically, it was just after I bought two pairs of shoes from them last year that it started to close down.

So why did it shutter? To understand the reason, we may want to look back in time at what Town Shoes used to be. In 2010, I wrote a blog post about how Town Shoes engaged in the unsavoury act of ripping off designer wares with its Red Carpet Collection. At the time, Town Shoes had some awfully overpriced, tacky shoes which it hopelessly tried to market as glamorous. Over the years, it aimed to shed its shameful past by portraying a more upscale image with higher quality footwear in what it called 'accessible luxury'. When the most prestigious collaborations Town Shoes ever got a decade ago was with the likes of David Dixon, Kate & Mel, and Barbie, earlier last year it started boasting labels such as See by Chloé, Ted Baker, Kate Spade and Badgley Mischka.

However, upon closer inspection, Town Shoes still carried some mediocre labels. It still had poor quality footwear that wasn't worth the price associated with it, and thus, continued to be seen by the average shopper as overpriced -- even if a few of its shoes did warrant the higher dollar figure. Ultimately, Town Shoes brought variety to the market, but unlike its aforementioned competitors, it lacked a distinguishable identity.

And funny story, its identity crisis became even more pronounced when one of its stores desperately tried to liquidate its inventory. I was browsing a Town Shoes Outlet during the final leg of its store closing sale when I came across a horrendous sight: the store was selling shoes which were missing the other pair. As in, a single shoe. A. Single. Shoe. Please tell me what the heck I am supposed to do with one shoe. And guess what? The store wanted $10 for those shoes. So you're telling me I can pay $10 for a complete pair (because yes, they had complete pairs for the same price), or pay $10 for half a pair. Wow, logic. Even if I had wanted a single shoe for a DIY project, or had somehow lost a shoe in a drunken night at the club, or had possibly only one leg attached to my torso...what Town Shoes was doing didn't make a lick of sense to me. Worse yet, on the neighbouring shelf, they were selling BROKEN shoes. I literally picked up a pair of shoes with its heel hanging by tendrils of fabric, exposing its ugly innards of wood and screws. At that point I was so repulsed by the store's vile behaviour that I walked out shortly after.

After all its efforts to become a place of 'accessible luxury', Town Shoes sure stopped the masquerade when the going got tough and hearkened back to what it was like a decade ago. If it had managed to successfully bring more upscale footwear to the mass market space, it could have carried its relevance into this new age of retail. But akin to putting lipstick on a pig, Town Shoes was trying to be something it wasn't. And as it turns out, we have no room anymore for a store like that.

PS: On another note, just want to congratulate YouTubers Shane Dawson and Ryland Adams on their engagement! I started following Shane 6 years ago when it was clear he struggled with deep inner demons. But finally, over the past few years, I have seen him discover overwhelming happiness with Ryland at his side. I am so delighted these two have found each other and wish them love, joy and continued silliness for the rest of their lives. <3


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