Shoe market finds the right fit

Store seizes some growing room with new location

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Rick and Linda Petet went all-out with product displays and fixtures at the new location of their store, Steamboat Shoe Market. You might, too, if you had more than doubled the floor space of an already successful business.

The Petets' new store at 907 Lincoln Ave., next to Steamboat Art Company, features a row of custom-welded chairlift benches made from an old ski lift used in the Snowy Range west of Laramie, Wyo.

A faux rock wall serves as the display for their outdoor sports footwear. An antique church pew from Nebraska gives customers a place to sit while trying on shoes, and a clever corner shelf was made by a woodworker in Kremmling from an antique door.

The sum of the parts adds up to a distinct retail experience.

Visitors to the new store, with its wood floors and high ceilings, typically remark about how many more shoes are on display.

Linda Petet just laughs. In reality, the store has the same number of shoe styles as it did at its former, somewhat claustrophobic, location just a block up the street. The difference is that before, shoes were displayed in every possible nook and stacked to the ceiling. Now, they have the space needed to show their merchandise in the best light.

"I think it's much more comfortable for everyone," Linda said. "We have room to work with customers and still let other customers roam."

Still, Rick Petet is thankful for their old location in the 800 block of Lincoln, where they opened four years ago.

"The old store really did serve us well," he said. "We were fortunate to have that space. I don't know if we'd be here today if we hadn't had it."

The Petets think the roomier location will encourage customers to linger longer in their store and they hope it also will encourage their employees to remain longer in their jobs.

"We have a great staff right now," Rick Petet said.

The Petets are committed to staying open during the evening in their new location and are counting on the well-lit display windows of Steamboat Art Company to draw traffic to their store.

They are open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. this fall, but will be open until 8 p.m. and sometimes later during the height of the resort season.

The Petets' experience on Lincoln Avenue reads like a recruitment campaign for the new Main Street Steamboat initiative. They are convinced that, to be successful, they must appeal to a local client base. But they also have learned that people on vacation are just as apt to buy shoes in Steamboat as residents are.

"I think Steamboat reminds many people of the small town they grew up in," Rick Petet said. "There are so few (traditional) downtowns left, when people find a vibrant one, they respond to it."

It seems that men who don't shop frequently will make a spontaneous decision to buy a new pair of casual shoes while on a mountain vacation. The Petets say they have customers who are second-home owners who say they make almost all of their shoe purchases while they are in Steamboat.

"We're really proud of that," Linda Petet said.

Linda Petet operated a shoe store in Lexington, Neb., for 20 years, and her husband credits her decades of buying experience for their success in Steamboat. But she says it was necessary to make an adjustment to a different clientele here. She gives credit to the original owner of her Nebraska store for his wisdom in that regard.

When Randy Martin sold her his store in Lexington, he moved to Estes Park and opened Plum Creek Shoe Station. Martin and Linda Petet go to Las Vegas to buy shows twice a year, and she relies heavily on his instincts about what to buy for customers in a Colorado mountain town.

Customers won't find rows of white cross-trainers at Steamboat Shoe Market. But they will find several lines of athletic shoes for outdoor sports that are sometimes described as "approach shoes" because they are sturdy enough for light hiking in the mountains. They have shoes by Merrell, Vasque, Montrail, Tecnica and Salomon, as well as popular outdoor sandals by Chaco.

Steamboat Shoe Market carries numerous lines of shoes that fit into the "Euro casual comfort" category, Rick said. And there are shoes that fit into Steamboat's own version of what to wear to an important social function.

The Petets have been married for 20 years and say they are very different from each another. They've put those differences to work in their business, where Linda Petet excels at buying and ordering, and her husband supplies the creative vision of where the store needs to go next.

After the first of the year, they plan to introduce some new lines they think will be a hit with their customers, but are not saying which lines those will be.

-- To reach Tom Ross call 871-4205

or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com

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