After 75 years of business, Arcata’s oldest and only remaining shoe store, Plaza Shoe Shop, is preparing to close its doors and bid a final farewell to the town it has served for decades.
Owner Aiyana Neely, who contacted the Outpost with the news earlier this week, said she is sad to see the shop closing, and that her family has loved serving Arcata for so many years.
“The customers are amazing – just the friendliest group of people,” Neely said in a phone interview on Thursday afternoon. “We’ve really loved servicing the community over the years. It would be great if we could keep going.”
Neely’s parents, Jim and Renee Guitierrez, bought the shop in 1991 from the original owner, Guido Canclini, who opened the store on Ninth Street on the Arcata Plaza in 1948. Originally, Canclini opened his storefront as a shoe repair shop, but eventually he also started carrying high-quality work boots and — an Arcata staple – Birkenstocks. Canclini’s shop was known as a friendly place, where customers could stop in for some coffee and a chat, and Neely said that her family tried to carry on that same type of atmosphere.
“Some folks who were retired would just come in and drink their coffee and chat everyday,” Neely said. “For me those are the fondest memories, just hanging with the customers.”
From a young age Neely had an interest and involvement in the family business. By nine years old she was helping out by sweeping up the shop floors and by the time she was in high school she and her sister both had jobs managing the store. Neely’s parents both knew a lot about making and repairing shoes and passed a lot of their knowledge onto their daughter.
In 2000 the family moved the shop from its longtime home between Everett’s and Toby and Jacks to the current location on Seventh and G Streets, and in 2017 Neely bought the store from her parents when they retired.
Since Neely’s dad was the one who did most of the shoe repairs at the shop, business started to slow down a little after he retired. The shoe repair was a draw to get people into the store, but it was hard for Neely to keep a “niche service like that running,” she said.
That and the fact that more people have started shopping online or at big box stores certainly had some impact on the business, Neely said. But, like with so many other local businesses, COVID is what made it really hard to keep going. Of course the shop had to close entirely during the early days of the pandemic, and losing the sales while still having to keep paying the bills hurt the business a lot, even with help from COVID business relief grants.
Life changes also led Neely to relocate to Colorado, and she has been trying to sell the business for a while now, hoping that somebody would either want to take over Plaza Shoe Shop or open another shoe shop in its place. But with no luck selling the store, Neely finally decided it was time to close. At least for now, her parents still own the property and will likely lease it out to another business in the future.
Of course, no closing would be complete without a big blowout sale, and between now and final closing, everything in the store will be between 20 and 60 percent off. The shop’s last day of business will be Saturday, June 3.
With her parents living in Blue Lake and her sister still living and teaching in Arcata, Neely said she will be back to visit often, adding that she loves her hometown and is thankful for all the community members who supported the business for so many years.
“We really appreciate Arcata and people from all over Humboldt who shopped there,” Neely said. “I really just want to thank everybody, all of our customers for supporting our family over the years. We loved being a part of the community.”