Southern Stores Ready for Spring Break

ATLANTA — Unseasonably warm temperatures throughout the Southeast had retailers at the Atlanta Shoe Market feeling some early spring fever.

“Business has been good,” said Tim Wilson, a buyer for Tops for Shoes in Asheville, N.C. “After a long winter, people are coming out and they’re responding to spring product. As long as the weather stays good for a while, we’ll be fine.”

“A lot of [my fellow storeowners] in different places said their business was ticking up,” added Jeff Hardy, owner of Sand Dollar Lifestyles, which has locations in Texas and Alabama. “The past few weekends have been pretty, so people have been out like crazy and have been happy to be shopping. Things are turning around. This year is going to be a bounce back year [for retail].”

Hardy said that optimism was evident at the trade show, held Feb. 19-21 at Atlanta’s Cobb Galleria. He noted that the show drew a number of new vendors, including Adidas Outdoor, La Canadienne and Bettye Muller.

Among the top trends at the show, boots continued to dominate, particularly in equestrian-inspired silhouettes and with distressed leather treatments. While Wilson said he was impressed with La Canadienne’s selection of dressier winter boots and that Frye “looked amazing again,” he expressed concern about whether the boot category is sustainable since its success depends so heavily on favorable weather conditions. “It’s a little scary,” he said. “We’ve had several very good boot seasons in a row — especially this past season — but it’s mainly because of Mother Nature.”

Another trend generating buzz was minimalism. In addition to product launches from brands including Merrell, Fila and Teva, there were also some new players focused on the barefoot movement. Stem Ancestral Footwear, based in Charlotte, N.C., was debuting a line of unstructured lifestyle shoes, made with microsuede, mesh and a stitched-down soft liner. Priced at $85 retail and weighing just 6.2 ounces, the shoes were developed by Andrew Rademacher, a former decathlete who discovered barefoot training as a way to prevent injury. “[At the time], the big shoe companies were reluctant to develop this kind of product,” he said, adding that the segment is now growing quickly.

Meanwhile, the Atlanta Shoe Market’s Fashion Collection continued to draw retailers in its second season.

Peaches Chin, the buyer for Tags Boutique in Smyrna, Ga., shopped the area for at-once product to fill a new dedicated shoe location opening next month. She placed orders with labels including Penny Loves Kenny, Messeca, Jeffrey Campbell, Libby Edelman, Vince Camuto and Dao, and was keeping a close eye on prices. “We definitely don’t want to price ourselves out of the market,” she said.

While the trade show continued to grow, with a 24 percent jump in exhibitors and 16 percent increase in retailer pre-registration, Executive Director Laura Conwell-O’Brien said the summer edition would remain in the same location but could expand into additional ballroom spaces.

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