Picture yourself strolling down the Champs-Élysées in Paris, shopping bag in hand, and searching for the perfect pair of pumps. A pair that will take you from the gardens at the Palace of Versailles, to a candlelit dinner along the Seine, to the famous Palais Garnier for a night of world-renowned opera. While these images definitely appeal to the romantic in me, (I’ve been to Paris and none of this happened!), they speak to the importance of owning a versatile, stylish shoe. Most fashion trends start in Europe, not making their mark in Canada until up to 2 years after their appearance in London, Paris, and Milan. While we can’t all afford a trip across the pond to shop, we can find fabulous lines straight from Europe at Alexandria’s Shoes For Women in St Jacobs (now Uptown Waterloo!). Now we can beat the delay and really influence the style scene in our community!
Curator of exquisite things, Mary Reger is passionate about design, quality construction and high-fashion. With a background in new home sales, Mary spent many years helping clients carefully choose the finishing’s of their dream home. Now a fixture in the St. Jacobs community, Mary provides superior customer service while “decorating” our region’s most fashionable feet at her boutique.
Read the rest of our interview:
Mary, this place is fabulous! You have such an eye for beautiful shoes.
Thank you! I tend to stock small, European brands which are really high quality. I love shoes that are made with beautiful Italian leather…For example, this line, A.S. 98 (see photo), is designed in Italy and made in Bosnia. Johnny Depp wears this line and so does Keith Richards. They really are amazing!
That’s so neat! And you can buy these shoes right here in St. Jacobs. Can you tell me a bit more about your background and why you bought Alexandria’s Shoes?
I’ve always had a passion for fashion and design. I used to work in new home sales, and really enjoyed helping clients choose the finishing’s for their new homes. As I got older, I began to realize what exactly it was I wanted to do. I wanted to be my own boss. I wanted to engage my entrepreneurial spirit. So when Alexandria’s Shoes came up for sale, I bought it. It hasn’t been a perfectly easy adventure, but we’re doing all right!
Do you like owning a shop in St Jacobs?
I love it! There are such unique stores here in the Village. We actually tend to get a lot more shoppers from out of town though. I think one of the mistakes local people make is thinking that St. Jacobs is only for tourists. It’s not. We do get our share of tourists, they come on the weekends, but we do rely on the locals choosing to shop here, especially during the winter months. There are items here you won’t find at any mall.
One of my best friends lives in St. Jacobs, so we like to walk to the shops and explore. Do you find there are a lot of new businesses opening up in St. Jacobs?
Space in the Village does tend to fill up pretty quickly and stay filled! There have been several new businesses though that have opened up recently. There’s Ten Thousands Villages and there’s Rhumba, which is a clothing store from Stratford…
I thought Rhumba was a dance studio when it first opened up, but I will need to go check it out!
Haha! Nope. It’s a clothing store.
Haha! So can you give me a few words to describe the store?
I would say unique, quality, which is a big focus of mine, and style.
I can just imagine walking through a European city in these shoes. I love it!
You could definitely walk around in a European city with these styles, especially since they can handle cobblestone streets.
There’s a very distinct style here. How do you decide which brands to offer?
I focus more on smaller brands and independent boutiques. I attend the Toronto Shoe Show twice a year to shop for styles and I’ve stuck with some of the suppliers that the previous owner dealt with, but I’ve discovered new ones along the way. I also network with other small boutique owners in other cities. We talk a lot about what shoe brands they like, how they fit and how the company is to work with. But you know what, at the end of the day, it’s like if I love the shoe, I have to have the shoe!
Well I can understand that! Have you found you’ve shifted what you stock based on what customers buy?
I do keep an eye on that. My focus has been on serving women 35 and up, so they want shoes that are comfortable and will last. They feel if they’re going to invest money in a pair of shoes, they need to be of high quality, they need to fit and they need to look great! My lowest priced shoe is around $130; some shoes are $99 in the summer. I would like to attract younger professionals to the shop, so I make sure I have some shoes that are in this lower-middle of the road price range.
Do you have any style advice related to shoes specifically?
Well it’s interesting because people will say that they don’t know what to wear with some of the shoes. They may love this sort of edgy boot… and I will say you can wear them with anything. You just have to pull the look together. For example, today I’m wearing a dress and I can choose to make this dress look “dressy,” or if I wear a clunky shoe with it and tights, like I am now, it makes it much more casual. It really depends on your personal style. Shoes are just part of an outfit. You can take them wherever you want. I believe all of our shoes can be worn casually or dressed up; it just depends on the outfit.
I think it’s fair to say that shoes are basically an extension of one’s personality.
They are! You wear what works with your daily activities. You could almost wear any of these shoes with business suits; it just depends on the work environment. I have a customer who works in insurance, so she wears a lot of suits. She bought this fun, menswear, rogue-style shoe, which just screams insurance executive!
A true power shoe!
It is isn’t it? The menswear rogue look is really on trend now too.
So what other shoe trends will we be seeing?
Well it does take almost 2 years for shoes to come into style here. I need to be careful not to buy styles too early for that reason. The lace-up bootie is really popular now, but it’s been around for years in Europe. A trend we haven’t caught onto yet is wearing little, short boots with dresses and skirts, but this is everywhere in Italy and Spain. I’m waiting for this to happen here because I’ve seen some really cute, lacy ones at the shoe show. Next spring a hot trend will be the lug sole. In Europe it’s on everything, even high-heeled sandals!
Those seem practical.
They are! They give you more grip, but they also give you more cushion around the ball of the foot, where you may notice pressure points when you’re wearing heels. It will be interesting to see how people react to the style next year because it is a heavier look. But when you put the shoes on, they are super comfortable!
Do you have any favourite brands?
I actually love all of the shoes I carry! One of my favourite brands though is Un Tour En Ville, which is a French brand. I love Frye boots which are basically the American icon boot. I also love A.S.98 shoes and anything from Hogl, which is a brand I carry from Austria.
Well they are all gorgeous!
MJUS are also nice shoes! They are like the little sister brand to A.S.98, so they aren’t completely lined in leather. This makes them less expensive, but they still have great style. This company does colour really well too. Most of the shoes I carry are often finished in the traditional European ways, not mass produced in large factories.
You’ve brought a little bit of Europe here to St Jacobs!
What are some of your favourite places to visit in our region?
To be honest, I do tend to shop here in St. Jacobs. I like to support the local stores and people will always ask “where did you buy that”, so I like to keep them in town. I like to shop at Ashfield’s and Nantucket….I just want to keep people thinking about St. Jacobs. There really are some amazing shops here!
Do you find people are starting to shop more locally?
There are definitely people in our community who make a point to shop local…they are very aware of where things come from, but I think we have a ways to go yet. When you shop local, you get better customer service, better products, and you keep the money in our community. Independent store owners genuinely care about you and their business.
They want you to come back!
So how do you work with your customers then? If someone comes in looking for a shoe, what kind of service do you offer them?
I’ve gotten to the point now where I can look at someone’s foot and just tell what size they are. I can also see if they have any foot issues which need to be taken into consideration when choosing shoes. I recently had a customer come in from Stratford. She had a few foot concerns, a bunion, some other issues…it took a little while but she left the store happy with a new pair of shoes. We had a great time while she was here.
With experience you find out what kinds of shoes people gravitate towards and you learn how to work with foot issues, that way your customers end up happy with their purchases. I know my brands intimately and how they fit. Some brands fit a narrow foot better, some a wider foot. As you get to know your customer, you figure out what they love and then you show them those types of shoes.
Any interesting customer experiences to share?
Not really one specific story…. I do have a lot of regular customers who come over from Ashfield’s. They will be looking for shoes to work with outfits they’ve purchased, so Jeanette (owner of Ashfield’s) and I often put things together. Sometimes the customers come here; sometimes I bring shoes over there… Those are my favourite experiences though because you get to dress a woman from top to bottom.
Do you participate in any events? Fashion shows?
Both Jeanette and I have done Fashion for Life for several years now. We both participated in “Winter Wonderland” this year which was a fundraiser for St. Mary’s hospital on November 20. We worked to pull outfits together for that. Jeanette did the clothes, and I added the shoes and accessories. I also carry leather bags, scarves and some jewelry at my shop. We like to put our items together!
Wow! Sounds like it was a really fun event! Thank you so much for speaking with me Mary.
Superior customer service and swoon worthy soles await you at Alexandria’s Fine Shoes for Women in St. Jacobs. A master at accommodating any foot concern, Mary will work with you to choose a shoe to fit your lifestyle. It’s worth the drive to St. Jacobs. To keep up with the boutique, be sure to like their Facebook page and follow them on Twitter.