New Era for Dayton Boots starts at Granville Island
Dayton Boots, one of the world's only handmade shoe factories still in production, will open a new retail outlet this month on Granville Island in Vancouver. The tentative opening date is May 14th.
This marks the beginning of a new era for the Vancouver business, which has been located at 2250 East Hastings since 1948. With the new store, Dayton Boots will have access to thousands if not millions more potential customers.
The history of Dayton Boots
Though the company's patented shoes and boots are sold in some other stores, the Granville Island operation will be only the second franchise operation in Dayton history. (The first, on Granville Street, lasted only a year back in 2004.)
The business originally sprung loggers complained about the quality of their boots to Charlie Wohlford, owner of the Loggers Social Club at 64 East Hastings. Wohlford's repairs made the boots literally better than new, and he started manufacturing his own in 1946.
Over the years, motorcycle enthusiasts and Hollywood stars have discovered the Dayton boot, which has become known for its quality and as a status symbol.
But about 10 years ago the company hit some hard times. Around 2000, Ray Wohlford, grandson of Charlie, sold the operation to B.C. investors Naeem and Parvez Tyab. The Tyabs ran it for "two or three years", according to current Dayton president Stephen Encarnacao, before another investment group bought them out.
Manufacturing of Dayton Boots began in 1946. (Image: Dayton Boots)
Stephen Encarnacao takes the helm
Enter Encarnacao, originally from Boston and a former chief marketing officer with Reebok, who was asked by a friend in the investment group to take a look at the business.
“I told them it was a great brand with a lot of potential, but the business model really needed help," Encarnacao said in a phone interview. When, two years ago, the investors announced they were ready to shut down production in Vancouver, Encarnacao stepped in and, with a few smaller investors, bought the company.
The new store will be small—only 400 sq. feet—and will be in the Net Loft, the main retail area across from the Public Market. One might think the new outlet will target tourists rather than, say, Emily Carr students, but Encarnacao is hoping to reach locals who might otherwise avoid an East Hastings address.
"That was one of the appeals," says Encarnacao. The Granville Island Project Office estimates about 60 per cent of visitors to the island are from the Lower Mainland.
"For us, as much as we love East Vancouver and our neighbourhood, I think we tend to get painted by the same brush as the Downtown Eastside," says Encarnacao. "Even though there's some great shopping and great places here."
The Wings-horn Dayton Brown Boot. (Image: Dayton Boots)
More than just boots
Besides selling boots, the store is also a way to let more people know the story of a Vancouver landmark. "There'll be some found objects, some photography, and some heritage stuff in there," says Encarnacao.
"Obviously we want to sell some boots, and this certainly gives us an opportunity to showcase our boots to an audience that might have heard of the brand but have never taken the time to come see it."
Encarnacao adds that he’s commissioned a replica of the iconic neon Dayton Boots sign for the Granville Island store.