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100 and Counting

Despite location change, V & A is on solid ground

V& A Bootery has seen a lot of change in its 100 years of business, and as it enters a new century of doing business, the changes just keep coming.

The shoe and accessory store, which had been the longest tenant in the same spot on the Kalamazoo Mall, closed that location in August to expand its location at Southland Mall, in Portage.

Transformation is nothing new for the store, which has been around since the time of the opening of King Tut’s chamber in 1923. When the footwear retailer originally opened, it was owned by Bill Van Dis and Fred Appledoorn, hence the name V & A Bootery. During the stock market crash of 1929, Appledoorn lost his personal fortune and Van Dis bought Appledoorn’s share of the business and kept the store running.

In 1964, V & A remodeled its building on the Kalamazoo Mall, doubling the store’s size. Since the bootery had a large number of male customers, it needed extra space for that inventory. V & A Bootery opened additional locations in St. Joseph, Grand Rapids (which have both since closed) and Portage. In 2017, it purchased another downtown footwear retailer, Okun Brothers, to expand into the work shoe market.

And when the shopping world went digital, V & A kept up by creating an online store, but Bill Van Dis Jr., who now runs the company with his son Dan, says the brick-and-mortar storefront is still a critical component of the business.

“It’s much harder to look on the internet and know that a shoe is for you,” says Van Dis. “You can see if you like a style, but you can’t see if it works for you.”

The types of shoes now sold at the bootery have also changed, says Van Dis, and not just because of the whims of fashion.

“Our general lifestyle is becoming more casual. We are selling a lot more athletic shoes as a percentage of our business today than even five years ago,” he says, explaining that the company’s customer demographic is 25 to 65 years old. “The store caters less to fashion whims and more to those who want to look good and feel good in their shoes.”

This practice can be seen when looking at the brands V & A carries, such as Atom, Clarks, Jambu and Keen, which focus on comfort.

But with all the changes, a few things remain the same. The Van Dis family has been running the store for four generations: Bill Van Dis Jr. is the grandson of the original owner, and Dan Van Dis, the great-grandson of the owner. Like the generations before them, Bill Jr. and Dan are actively involved in the community, serving on various committees and boards. In the 1930s, Van Dis Sr. chaired the city’s Chamber of Commerce Retail Committee.

V & A has also been a part of the organizations that have overseen downtown Kalamazoo development since the 1950s (most recently the organization is the Kalamazoo Downtown Partnership). The family has also served on boards of local nonprofit organizations such as the YMCA, the Voluntary Action Center and the Downtown Restaurant and Retailer Association.

And while change means the company will no longer have its flagship location in downtown, Van Dis says one more thing will stay the same: “We have maintained a commitment to value and providing good service to our customers.”

Kalloli Bhatt

Kalloli is a Western Michigan University student majoring in journalism and a former Encore intern.

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