Thursday, July 21, 2016
Text and photos by Stacie Joy
I recently stopped by Village Kids Footwear to talk with proprietor Linda Scifo-Young. The shop, 117 First Ave. between Seventh Street and St. Mark's Place, sells footwear for children beginning at around 6 months of age.
The shop, sister store to Foot Gear Plus, which has been in business in the East Village for more than 37 years, is run by siblings Linda and Tony Scifo. Both stores have the motto: "Everyday footwear for real New Yorkers."
What made you decide to open a children’s shoe store in the East Village, especially coming from a corporate real-estate background?
We decided to open the kids store to accommodate our customers who were begging us to open a children’s store. There were none in the area; the last one closed a few years earlier. With regard to my real-estate background: "sales is sales."
Your shop is a family-owned and family-run store, and your brother Tony operates the sister shop Foot Gear Plus a few doors down at 131 First Ave. at St. Mark's Place. How is it working with your brother and his kids? How do you split the responsibilities for the two shops?
Tony runs the adult store Foot Gear Plus and his children work alongside him. I run the kids store with a staff that’s local to the neighborhood. I also handle the business end — lawyers, payroll, taxes, etc. — for both stores.
What is the typical East Village kid looking for in shoes? What shoes sell best and who makes the decisions in shoe-buying — the kids or the parents?
Sneakers are the typical purchase for kids. However, we tell the parents that each kid needs sneakers and sandals in the summer and sneakers as well as boots in the winter. Pediped and New Balance are our best sellers.
The buying decision is about 50/50 between parent and child.
You mentioned you hire locally, and that everyone who works at the shop lives nearby. Why is it important to you to hire from within the community?
The reason we hire locally in both stores is because the community has been good to us with their loyalty and it’s our way of giving back to the neighborhood.
[Scifo-Young with employee Donna, who lives nearby]
How does your shop, one without an ecommerce site, compete with giant Internet retailers? How do you keep repeat customers?
Ecommerce I feel is very hard for shoe stores because you really need to try on shoes. We offer some items on Amazon but we couldn’t have a traditional site because people tend to order a number of pairs hoping one will fit. Most times they end up returning all ordered items. Who can stay in business that way?
Our repeat customers are a product of customer service, something that we excel at.
Do you have any plans to expand? What’s next for Village Kids Footwear?
Expansion is not in the cards — the two stores are enough for now. The ability to renew our lease is enough excitement at the moment!
[Scifo-Young with customer Jesse Gunn]