As the COVID-19 pandemic remains a challenge in retail, businesses have reopened and are trying to resume business as usual. The independent retailers that were initially hardest hit have bounced back and found success in different ways, from online sales to having dedicated and loyal customer bases. While business is a little different these days with increased online and digital sales, retailers in downtown Los Angeles are successfully navigating the new normal by learning to adapt on the fly.
216 E. 9th St.
Nestled around the corner from LA’s fashion district Cooper Design Space is Virginwhere owner, designer and buyer Rana Shoar has been selling vintage clothing in addition to her own designs for over a decade.
Shoar has been involved in the fashion industry for years, starting with her family, who work in manufacturing, to earning a degree in Institute of Fashion Design and Merchandising and work for others. Virgo opened in November 2009 and exclusively offered vintage styles for men and women. The store has moved to contain a bit of the trend but is rooted in vintage, where it is a renowned destination for its vintage Levi’s collection and original vintage t-shirts of the band.
“It’s mostly for women now, but at the same time, if it fits you and looks good on you, go for it,” Shoar said. “We’re not really gender exclusive, and vintage is very unisex anyway. It’s like a mixed bag between someone who can swing between her vintage 501s, a sundress, and something like an oversized suit.
Shoar also designs a collection each season drawing inspiration from everything she felt at the time, like reconstructed vintage or her linen line, which she launched in 2021. Sustainability is her heart, and it reflects these values in his merchandise. Prices at the store range from $12 for accessories to $350 for Levi’s 501 single-stitched denim with the desirable big E on the tab. Shoar also offers in-store tailoring for vintage jeans.
“A lightweight fit comes with every pair of jeans, it’s included in the price. I think this supplement [touch] makes customers feel good. It’s tailored to their body, and that’s something we wanted to give them. 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 allowed the store 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 still arriving there due to its unassuming location. Much of the clientele includes stylists and others who work in neighborhood showrooms, often shopping during their lunch breaks.
“It’s kind of fun that there’s this youthfulness with people who just found out about us, and we have people who’ve been shopping here since high school who then go to 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 runs her boutique, Pamela Vin 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 his own store.
The boutique sells a mix of clothing, jewelry, accessories and home décor items while also being home to Vilchez’s own line of handbags, which it sells wholesale and retail. Accessories cost between $8 and $12 while bags cost between $200 and $300. The products are handmade and made in Peru with the same group of artisans who have worked with the Vilchez family for years.
When the pandemic hit, Vilchez had to close the store for five months, but continued to sell its products online by bringing items home, taking photos, and posting them to websites and social media. It offered a delivery service to deliver products to customers’ doorsteps after purchase.
“I have a customer who has been shopping through the pandemic and up to today through Instagram,” Vilchez said. “She is one of my best customers, but she never came to the store in person due to the pandemic. When I post something or make a product video, that’s how she buys.
Crochet and bright colors have been selling well lately in addition to the fanny packs that Vilchez has been making since the pandemic began. She mentioned that she also saw the evil eye all over the clothes and jewelry.
“We sell a lot of fanny packs. I create bags, but during the pandemic I thought people weren’t carrying so many bags. I felt women needed their hands to deal with masks, sanitizers and stuff and not to deal with big bulky bags. I still sell fanny packs, and they’ve definitely been a bestseller,” Vilchez said.
Vilchez mentioned that even these days she gets customers who remember her mother’s shop. “I have customers who come in and say they used to go to my mum’s store when they were around 12 and now they’re in their 30s. They mention how much they loved handmade products and how my mom inspired them to open their own stores,” Vilchez said.
113 E 8th St.
Since 2014, pskaufman… provided “Happy new year-sewn shoes for stylish people” in downtown Los Angeles, bringing a fun and unique twist to footwear that keeps a person looking and feeling cool for a long time.
Paul Kaufman, owner and designer at pskaufman…, launched the brand in 2010 and has already found success as one of the owners of NaNawhich was one of the first retailers to offer Dr Martens to the United States from England. With a background in design but not specific to anything in particular, Kaufman fell in love with the shoemaking process after visiting a factory and seeing that it incorporated many different aspects that interested him, such as sculpting and even chemistry.
As the brand continued to grow, it eventually outgrew its original space, Kaufman’s home in Santa Monica. Downtown LA was a perfect location because the area was very busy at the time and was a centralized location for many areas of Los Angeles.
“It seemed like a great place where you’re not too far from anyone, whether it’s Pasadena or the San Gabriel Valley or even the beach towns. Nothing was more than half an hour, so it just made sense to us,” Kaufman said.
The store offers a wide range of shoes for men and women, from shoes to boots in a variety of styles and heights. Kaufman also offers customization options, all done in-store, such as adding different outsoles and different color finishes, allowing a customer to end up with a unique product. It uses materials such as recycled tires and other upcycled materials to create the looks and customizations available.
Kaufman mentioned that he doesn’t get too involved in trends because he makes shoes that are supposed to last a long time and can be repaired if needed, but he acknowledges that he has to sell shoes to stay in business. He follows his instincts and creates what he thinks is both what he likes and what he thinks others would like. He said he wanted the brand to represent something other than shoemaking and believes that if the brand is able to have a financial, cultural and environmental effect, it is doing something positive.
“We spend a lot of time making sure the shoes fit properly. We really do it the old fashioned way. We don’t have a scanner to find someone’s foot shape or anything, but we spend a lot of time online, on the phone and in the store to make sure the fit is right. Obviously, that guarantees a happy foot, which makes a customer happy and possibly a kinder 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 from a functional point of view, something that will last a long time and can be repaired.