THE INTERVIEW :: STEVE VAN DOREN
So when did the Vans open the doors for business?
Well they were building the factory throughout 1965 and they had ‘Opening January!’ painted on the front but it wasn’t ready. This was the year of Maxwell Smart so they had ‘Would you believe February’ added to the sign, but it actually opened I believe on the first day of March, 1966. The factory, the office, and the retail store were all located at 704 East Broadway.
The way they had the company set up was unique at the time, direct retailing shoes from a manufacturer, how did it all work?
The very first day my Dad had probably 10 racks with empty boxes on them. Blue boxes were for men, orange boxes were for boys, red boxes were kid’s and green boxes were for women. My dad was always a systems guy. If you’re looking for men’s shoes, they are in the blue boxes, you don’t have to go any further than that.
The first day they open the doors, 16 people came in and they had a sample of all the styles. We didn’t even have names for the styles, we had numbers, style #44 was our authentic deck shoe. In the 44s my dad had navy blue, white, loden green and red. We didn’t have black at first; it became our best seller in later years.
The women’s styles for Vans were smaller styles in the same deck shoes. We had a lace up, we had a 2 eyelet, we had a slip-on and the styles were called #16, #19 and style #20. Then we had a leather deck shoe, a leather boat shoe, style #46 and a canvas boat shoe, style #45. These were the original styles with children’s shoes called style #15. The original price on the shoes was $2.29 for women’s and men’s style 44s were $4.49. My dad had never been in retail before, so it was new for him. He could basically look at your foot and say ‘hey you’re eight and a half’ so they had a stick to make the customers feel good. They would then find out what style they wanted and what colour they wanted. Basically those first sixteen pairs did have to be made that day, and the people came back the next day to pick up their shoes, just because they wanted to get open so quick. They started filling the boxes in the store and by the third or fourth day they had filled them in.
Check out our next feature: DEATH OF THE INDEPENDENT SNEAKER STORE