When the shoe fits

Michael Stockinger

For high-end fashion, many head to the specialty stores on Union Street, Hayes Valley, The Haight in San Francisco, Melrose in Los Angeles or Soho in New York City.

Others walk around in busy malls and pay for overpriced clothing; but this doesn’t have to be the case anymore. There’s a new fashion center on the map: midtown Sacramento.

Home to many small businesses and boutiques, midtown is bordered by 15th Street and Alhambra Boulevard, and runs from B Street to W Street.

Five months ago, local boutique owners formed the Midtown Boutique District in order to collectively promote their businesses through shared advertising and communication.

“There are many new boutiques in midtown joining the pioneer boutiques that people do not know about,” said board member of the Midtown Business Association Noah S.A. Schwartz, a Sacramento native with a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Sacramento State. “The Sacramento-area people have always shopped at malls that seem to all carry the same merchandise, and the ones who wanted individuality or boutique-type goods (and were) willing to travel to San Francisco or L.A., did so.”

The 25 small boutiques, scattered throughout Midtown, have had trouble advertising in the past because of money and organization, but as the Midtown Boutique District develops, this problem may be remedied.

“By pooling funds together and advertising as one, we can best afford to advertise on television during prime time, and in the best publications in their best locations,” said Schwartz, who is the president of the Midtown Boutique District.

Schwartz said the collaboration can bring owners together to talk about the state of midtown.

“Instead of considering your neighbor as an enemy, we need to come together to support each other to keep the customer here,” Schwartz said. “With communication, we can make sure we are not crisscrossing the lines we carry and it would allow us to send customers to other stores for a certain product they are looking for.”

The 32-year-old owner of Shoefly has a relaxed demeanor, casual business approach and a flamboyant sense of humor.

Schwartz was no stranger to business ownership when he opened his boutique. His family has been a fixture in the Sacramento business community for over 100 years.

The family business, Palm Iron Bridgeworks, built bridges and skyscrapers out of steel from 1886 to 1994. The company participated in maintaining and building the Golden Gate and Bay bridges. The family decided to move out and try something else.

“We closed the business because my dad didn’t want to see my whole goal in life to be taking over the family business, which was good for me, because it was a brutal business and it forced me to carve my own path,” Schwartz said with a smile.

His great-grandparents owned a downtown shoe store located downtown. It closed in the 1950s.

As a member of the fraternity Sigma Alpha Epsilon (now banned at Sac State) and the Sac State golf team, Schwartz, who plays golf and works out regularly, doesn’t seem like one who would be involved much in fashion.

Regardless, the interest has always been there.

“In high school and college, my friends and I who were interested in very stylish clothes and cool stuff, always had to drive to San Francisco to get it,” Schwartz said. “We would always say, ‘I wish somebody would open that kind of stuff up here,’ so that’s where the interest came in opening my own store.”

Shoefly, Schwartz’s boutique which opened five years ago, is a small, chic store located on K Street which carries designer brand shoes including Ted Baker, Miss Sixty and Fornarina. Shoefly’s prices range from $50 to $300.

“Shoe companies themselves dictate the price, so everyone is supposed to sell the shoes for the same price,” Schwartz said. “It’s been in the past, specialty stores always charge more than department stores, but that’s not the case with me; if anything I beat out department stores by $4 to $5.”

The Midtown Boutique District’s membership includes many other boutiques such as Dara Denim, Barby K and 23 Lounge.

“We need to get together and let people know about us, while collectively advertising together,” Jessica Horton, owner of the K Street store Dara Denim, said.

“The collective advertising was nice, but that wasn’t what enticed me to join,” Horton said. “It was that all the boutiques would be able to communicate and be part of a group.”

For the holidays, the district mailed postcards that listed local boutiques, while offering free gift-wrapping and discounts from the merchants. Since mailing the postcards and forming the district, Horton said business has improved. Horton, treasurer for the district board, said the group has been trying to come up with new promotions.

“Noah is a great president, very motivated ?” we work together a lot and he’s a great worker,” Horton said.

Shawn D. Eldredge, owner of Capitol Painting & Services and president of the Midtown Business Association, said that the association hopes more groups like the Midtown Boutique District form.

“They’re part of the merchant committee, so that’s his job, to establish those smaller groups within the association,” Eldredge said. “This was our hope to establish small groups like this ?” I think it’s awesome.”

Eldredge said he wants this to lead to other groups forming, such as those for restaurants and salons.

“For the last half of the year, (Schwartz) has been a rock star; he participates and he’s always at our meetings,” Eldredge said. “This is all volunteer work, so very few people show up to the meetings because of their schedules, but he’s there.”

Michael Stockinger can be reached at [email protected]