Bangor resident opens shop solely for Maine feet

By Aislinn Sarnacki, BDN Staff
Posted Sept. 15, 2011, at 5:03 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — The area’s newest shoe store has the perfect footprint. It’s a prime location for those passing by on their way to lunch, dinner or the theater in downtown Bangor to stop and see what Summer Allen has to offer — a women’s boutique filled with boots, classic pumps, clogs, lace-ups and leather flats.

The white letters of “Valentine Footwear” are now printed on the storefront of 115 Main St. in Bangor, a former storage space that Allen, a second-generation shoe retailer, opened in early September.

“I grew up in a shoe store family,” said Allen, 30, of Bangor. “It’s what we talked about around the dinner table.”

Allen’s family has owned Winterport Boot Shop since 1974, and her first job was as a “runner” in the back room of the shop, hurrying among towers of hunting, hiking and work boots to find sizes for busy employees to bring to customers.

By the time she entered high school, she was ready to leave the footwear world behind, but as she studied environmental policy in college, she began truly appreciating her family’s business.

“I was working in that field [environmental policy], and I was laid off,” said Allen. “Once that happened, starting my own business wasn’t such a risk. I had nothing to lose.”

Allen seeks out footwear brands and styles that fit her vision of the ideal Maine shoe. With harsh winters and varied terrain, quality footwear is crucial. In addition, she wants to put to rest the idea that what is beautiful can’t be practical. Shoppers won’t find stilettos or running shoes — but they will find everything in between.

“I look for shoes that people will find fun and new but not shocking,” said Allen. “I want them to say, ‘Oh, I’ve never thought of wearing a shoe like that.’ And I try to find shoe styles that are really comfortable, because I’ve seen a lot of heinous foot problems in my life.”

The shop’s fall footwear, a selection of dozens of brands, has a price range of $69-$250.

“I feel that Bangor people are looking for something versatile. They aren’t going to spend a lot of money on a pair of shoes that only go with one thing,” said Allen. “They want a deep brown leather boot that they can dress up and dress down and will go with half their wardrobe.”

“What’s really hot so far in the shop are the Westerns [cowgirl boots], which you can buy at any number of shops, but these are high quality, with a leather sole and wooden peg,” Allen said as ran her hand over the detailed stitching of a red-and-black pair of Tony Lama boots.

If Western isn’t your style, Allen has packer boots, harness boots and a growing collection of winter boots, styles of top brands such as Sorrell, Double-H and Keen.

Some brands may sound familiar, such as BOGS, Clarks, Birkenstock and Merrell, but she also carries new brands to this region such as the Portugal Arcopedico, which sells vegan-friendly, lightweight boots that are perfect for traveling.

Racks of colorful, practical, patterned and textured tights and socks are scattered among rows of footwear, lined up on custom pine tables constructed by a local carpenter. Coat racks hold screen-printed handbags while antique-style dressers display Maine-made soaps, leather treatment, leg warmers, headbands and greeting cards.

“There’s something fun in trying on shoes and being in a shop,” she said. “That’s why I have a big mirror and a big comfy couch.”

She wants shoppers to experience “the traditional sit and fit,” and near the couch is a Brannock Device, or traditional measuring instrument her family used to fit shoes in Winterport Boot.

“I’m definitely listening to what people want, as long as it fits with the vision of the shop,” she said.

To stay up to date about the newest fashions and brands, Allen attends Boston Shoe Travelers Association trade shows and plans to visit additional larger shows in Las Vegas and New York.

From the sales counter constructed by her uncle to the custom wall hangers (made of door stops and boards) creatively pieced together by her mother, each aspect of the sunlit shop reminds her of the support she has received from her family.

The flowers on her counter speak of another type of support. On opening day, business owners in Bangor loaded her counter with bouquets, including an elaborate flower arrangement by Sweetest Thing on Columbia Street. Bangor Wine & Cheese on Hammond Street welcomed her with a bottle of wine and Court Street Market brought her sandwiches.

“This location downtown is kind of wanting for random foot traffic,” said Summer, though she’s hoping that the shoppers will wander farther with the recently opened Zen restaurant across the street and the Penobscot Theater providing events next door.

She’s not too far from the hub of downtown shops, and after all, her shoes are made for walking.

Valentine Footwear is open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday-Friday and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday. Store hours will lengthen for the holiday season. For information, visit www.valentinefootwear.com, call 907-2128 or email hello@valentinefootwear.com.

CORRECTION:

An earlier version of this story contained an error in a photo caption. Summer Allen’s father owns Winterport Boot which is in Brewer, not Belfast.

http://bangordailynews.com/2011/09/15/living/bangor-resident-opens-shop-solely-for-maine-feet/ printed on July 11, 2014