Friday, February 4, 2011

Popular Shoe Zoo Store Closing After 23 Years In The Community

Shoe Zoo Owner Bruce Stern and Store Manager  Susan

In an email titled  "Sad News From the Shoe Zoo, The Shoe Zoo, located near the University Village (2920 NE Blakely), Bruce Stern, the owner, announced they are closing after over twenty years serving loyal fans.

The store has many customers in Laurehurst, including patients at Children's Hospital, and customers from nearby communities and throughout the city. So the closing of this store was surprising to so many as it will have an impact on  numerous families who have shopped there over so many many years. And it's so unfortunate to have yet another independent business close up shop.

Monday's email said:
Well, it is with a very heavy heart, that after 23 years of taking care of the best customers I could ask for, I must announce, that starting today, we will begin our last sale ever – our going out of business sale. This was a very tough decision to make, but one that had to be made. I must sell everything in the store (including all the fixtures, toyes, etc. ) Hopefully, you can help me get the word out. If this store has made a difference for your families over the years, please come in and pick up a few pair of shoes.

This week a reader was in the store and told us that every person that walked in was shocked and saddened by the  news. Even a little girl said to the owner "I am sad you are closing, because you were the only shoe store we went to. Maybe you can keep it open." The owner gave her a big hug and said there had been many tears shed in the store this week and there will be many more.

Bruce and his long time Store Manager, Susan, said they don't know what they will do next and both will be looking for jobs. They said "So if you have any ideas...." He even tossed out the idea that maybe someone would buy the store and he could continue working there.

Some comments on the NE Seattle Moms Yahoo Group, in response to the email, said "It is the only place I have ever bought shoes for my boys. And my boys LOVE going there" and "Oh no!! We LOVE the shoe zoo! They are so very nice there!"

The personalized care, patience and enthusiasm Bruce and his staff took with each and every baby and child that came into the store was rare.  He treated each with respect and importance as babies tried on their very first shoe ever, to seasoned kids who took their moms or dads to their favorite shoes in the store to ask to try them on.

Bruce was heard telling a customer this week "I have fit kids from babies up until I had to tell the child I couldn't help them anymore, as they had finally outgrown my sizes."

One of our readers said their family had bought their shoes there starting when there kids were babies and were so impressed with the staff's exceptional customer service and extensive knowledge of children's shoes and what worked well for each individual child.

Bruce said that sales had been dropping, especially last month, so he made the unfortunate decision to go out of business. Currently there is a 30% off sale and the discount will continue to drop as time goes on, until he will most likely donate the remaining shoes.

The store should be open through the end of March, and Bruce urges families to come in and buy shoes. One woman walked out with 3 pairs of shoes, socks and a bag full of toys, that were a staple in the store for kids to play with.

We asked Bruce to tell us about his business and connection to the communities and families he has served for so long.

He recounts a fascinating story dating back to when his father had a shoe store in the University Village, followed by Bruce working at Frederick Nelson then following in his father's footseps and starting his own shoe store.

Here is Bruce's email to our staff: 

Thank you so much for your interest in my store. It truly makes me feel blessed that over the last 23 years we made a difference to a lot of families. I feel that this is a very special area of Seattle, not only because I grew up here, but because the people in this community truly believe in family values.

I graduated from Nathan Hale high school in 1976 and started working at Jay Jacobs in the shoe department. within 5 years I was the regional Mgr. overseeing stores from Tacoma to Bellingham. I left there and went to work for Frederick and Nelson and before I new it, I had been in the shoe business for a dozen years or so. My father Gil Stern, who I am sorry to say just passed away, had a shoe store in University Village for many years called Gil Stern Shoes. My father was constantly told about the need for children's shoes in U Village.

 In 1988 I started The Shoe Zoo. The store was immediately recognized as the northwest's best children's shoe store. The honor has been ours for almost the last quarter century. We have been the GO TO store according to Children's Hospital and most of the local podiatrist's in our area.

But more importantly, its the thousands of families I have personally waited on over the years that has made me love this store so much. Watching a baby getting his first pair of shoes grow till I sadly have to say............I am sorry buddy, I can't fit you anymore, your too big. And then to have him bring in his child to let me fit them in there first pair of shoes. I'm tearing up right now, wow.

The Shoe Zoo has downsized over the years, in the 90's there were three stores, Issaquah, and Redmond Town Center are both only a memory now. They both had very loyal customers, but now like Seattle just not enough of them. I have been blessed over the years to have had an incredible staff of employees.

Susan my Manager of 15 years is as loyal as can be, and will truly be missed. There have been so many wonderful employees over the years and all of them truly cared about the well being of the kids. Our rule was not to pay commission on selling a pair of shoes. No fit would be jeopardized for a buck or two. Our rule was if the shoe doesn't fit we won't sell it.

I am also proud of the shoe recycling program we are involved in, I think we have made an impact in a way. We take old shoes from customers and they are ground up and used in the making of sport fields and other things. Much more environment friendly, then disposing them in land fills.

Closing the store has been was a very tough decision. Honestly, the last two years have been a struggle. I tried to be more careful about over spending on merchandise. I always wanted to not only give the best service, but always have the best selection as well.

There are many reasons why business is not what it was. Changing of buying habits with our customers, in many different ways, has made this decision for me.

Business has dropped over the last two years to the point that I can't be business as usual. I can't keep up with my invoices. I only know one way of doing business, and my customers are smart, they would notice the difference if I change my store to the degree I would have to, to survive these incredibly tough times.

Customers are saddened by the news, some have even cried a little. Many have asked what it would take to make you stay. The only thing I can think of is a winning lotto ticket. That way I could pay for last years back to school shoes. They have also asked what will I do for work.

I have only been able to respond with.....something involving customer service, that's all I know. Anyone got any Ideas? I wish someone would buy the store, I believe with some restructuring it could once again be successful. Right now everything in the store is 30% off and as time goes on the discount will grow until I am practically giving the shoes away.

Then, when I get to the point that I can donate the remaining shoes, I will put up my closed sign for good.

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