DTLA Retailers Poised to Experience Strong 2022
While the COVID-19 pandemic remains a challenge in retail, businesses have been reopening and attempting to resume business as usual. Independent retailers who were initially hit the hardest have been rebounding and experiencing success in different ways, whether through online sales or by having dedicated and loyal customer bases. While business is being conducted a bit differently these days with the increase in online and digital sales, retailers in downtown Los Angeles are navigating the new normal with success as they learn to adapt on the fly.
216 E. 9th St.
Tucked around the corner from the Los Angeles Fashion District’s Cooper Design Space is Virgo, where owner, designer and buyer Rana Shoar has been selling vintage apparel in addition to her own creations for more than a decade.
Shoar has been involved in the fashion industry for years, starting with her family, who works in manufacturing, to graduating from the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising and working for other people. Virgo opened in November 2009 and exclusively carried vintage men’s and women’s styles. The store has shifted to contain a bit of trend but is rooted in vintage, where it is a noted destination for its vintage Levi’s collection and vintage original band T-shirts.
“It’s mostly women’s now, but at the same time if it fits you and looks good on you then go for it,” Shoar said. “We’re not really exclusive to any gender, and vintage is very unisex anyway. It’s like a mixed bag between someone who can oscillate between their vintage 501s to a summer dress to something like an oversized suit.”
Shoar also designs a collection every season with inspiration coming from whatever she is feeling at the time, such as reconstructed vintage or her linen line, which she launched in 2021. Sustainability is her core, and she reflects those values in her merchandise. Prices at the shop range from $12 for accessories to $350 for Levi’s 501 single-stitch denim with the desirable big E on the tab. Shoar also offers in-store tailoring for the vintage jeans.
“Light tailoring is offered with each pair of jeans—it’s included in the price. I think that extra [touch] makes the customers feel good. It’s tailored to their bodies, and it’s something we wanted to provide. The jeans aren’t often perfect, so that’s what we’re trying to provide—the perfect pair of jeans,” Shoar said.
The store currently has a website in the works but sells on Instagram and other social media through direct messaging. Shoar said social selling was important during the pandemic and allows the shop to provide the customer service it is known for in a digital capacity.
Although the store has been open for over a decade, new customers are always happening upon it due to its unassuming location. A large part of the customer base includes stylists and others who work in the neighborhood’s showrooms, often shopping on their lunch breaks.
“It’s kind of fun that there’s this youthfulness with people just discovering us, and we have people who have been shopping here since high school who are then in college and then get married and we have this history with our customers and it makes us feel really good,” Shoar said.
111 E. 9th St.
Pamela Vilchez has been running her boutique, Pamela V, in DTLA since 2019. After spending time in the television industry and working in showrooms, Vilchez was inspired by her mother, who owned a boutique on Santee Alley for 20 years, to return to her roots and open her own store.
The shop sells a mix of clothing, jewelry, accessories and home-décor items while also being the home for Vilchez’s own line of handbags, which she sells both wholesale and retail. Accessories go for $8 to $12 while bags go for $200 to $300. Products are handmade and manufactured in Peru with the same group of artisans who have been working with Vilchez’s family for years.
When the pandemic hit, Vilchez had to close the store for five months but continued selling her products online by bringing the items home, taking pictures, and posting on websites and social media. She offered a delivery service to drop products off at customers’ doors after purchase.
“I have a customer who has been buying throughout the entire pandemic and up to today all through Instagram,” Vilchez said. “She is one of my best customers, yet she has never been in-person to the store due to the pandemic. When I post something or make a video of products is how she buys.”
Crochet and bright colors have been selling well lately in addition to the fanny packs Vilchez has been making since the pandemic began. She mentioned she has also been seeing the evil-eye design everywhere in both clothing and jewelry.
“We’ve been selling a lot of fanny packs. I create bags, but during the pandemic I was thinking people weren’t carrying as many bags. I felt women needed their hands to deal with masks and sanitizers and stuff and not deal with big, bulky bags. I’m still selling fanny packs, and they’ve definitely been a bestseller,” Vilchez said.
Vilchez mentioned that even these days she gets customers who remember her mom’s boutique. “I have customers who come in and say they used to go to my mom’s shop when they were like 12 years old and now they are in their thirties. They mention how much they loved the handmade products and how my mom inspired them to even open their own stores,” Vilchez said.
113 E 8th St.
Since 2014, pskaufman… has provided “Goodyear-welted shoes for stylish individuals” in downtown L.A., bringing a fun and unique flair to footwear that allows a person to look and feel cool for a long time.
Paul Kaufman, owner and designer at pskaufman…, started the brand in 2010 and had previous success as one of the owners of NaNa, which was one of the first retailers to bring Dr. Martens to the U.S. from England. With a background in design but not specific to anything in particular, Kaufman became enamored with the shoe-making process after taking a tour of a factory and seeing that it incorporated a lot of different aspects he was interested in such as sculpture and even chemistry.
As the brand continued to grow, it eventually outgrew its original space—Kaufman’s house in Santa Monica. Downtown L.A. was a perfect location as the area was buzzing at the time and was a centralized location for a lot of different L.A. regions.
“It seemed like a great location where you’re not too far from anyone, whether it be Pasadena or the San Gabriel Valley or even the beach cities. Nothing was more than maybe a half an hour, so it just made perfect sense for us,” Kaufman said.
The shop offers a wide range of men’s and women’s footwear, from shoes to boots in a variety of styles and heights. Kaufman also offers options for customization, all done in-store, such as adding different outsoles and different color finishes, allowing the opportunity for a customer to end up with a unique product. He uses materials such as recycled tires and other upcycled materials to create the looks and customizations available.
Kaufman mentioned he doesn’t get too involved in trends because he makes shoes that are meant to last a long time and can be repaired if needed, but he acknowledges that he does have to sell shoes to remain in business. He follows his instincts and creates what he believes fits both what he likes and what he thinks other people would like. He said he wants the brand to represent something beyond making shoes and believes that if the brand is able to have an effect financially, culturally and environmentally then he is doing something positive.
“We spend a lot of time making sure that the shoes fit properly. We do it really old school. We don’t have a scanner to find someone’s foot shape or anything, but we spend a lot of time online, on phone calls and in the store to make sure that the fit is correct. Obviously that ensures a happy foot, which makes a happy customer and perhaps a nicer human,” Kaufman said. “My goal is to make an amazing product at a very fair price. Something that is irresistible from a design point of view and a functional point of view, something that will last a long time and can be repaired.”