Editor’s note: This story first appeared in the “Best of Bainbridge” special section. The Readers Choice Awards publication was included in the Aug. 26 edition of the Bainbridge Review.
Known for its twice a year Blow Out sales, Sole Mates, Bainbridge Island’s most popular shoe store, has been named the “best” for the third year in a row.
“I don’t know why we’re the best,” said owner Dorothy Scott. “It’s probably because we have a classy section, a broad selection and good customer service.”
Sole Mates opened in December of 2003, and was located on the corner at Bainbridge Village, near Safeway. About four years ago, the store needed more space and moved down the block to Suite C5, 275 High School Road NE, still in the Bainbridge Village.
The business was opened by a husband and wife team, Dorothy and her husband, Jack, who has since passed away. Dorothy has an extensive background in retail management and worked in the shoe business in San Francisco for 15 years, before relocating to Bainbridge Island.
At the time she was selling inventory management systems for retailers and the Pacific Northwest was her territory.
“We moved to Bainbridge because it has the best schools and we had three school-aged children,” she said.
Not too long after that, she realized she missed retail and decided to open Sole Mates. She and her husband came up with the name.
“The goal has always been to provide the local community with comfortable, good quality shoes,” she said. “We have all the usual suspects.”
Those brands include Birkenstocks, Sorel, Clarks, Sperry, Born, dankso, Keen, Merrel, and tamaris. The store has children’s, women’s and men’s shoes in sizes newborn to men’s 14 and 15. And they can special order sizes that aren’t in the store.
Scott does all the buying herself. Company representatives visit her at the store and she attends three shows every year, in LasVegas, Salt Lake City and Portland.
“That shows me what’s going on in the world of shoes,” she said of the trade shows.
Currently the store has seven employees and manager Nancy Rockett-Ward. Every employee is educated on every shoe brand that Sole Mates offers.
“It’s a requirement for them to go through rigorous course,” Scott said. “They are trained because people have different kinds of feet.”
Athletic shoes and a separate department for runner’s shoes, apparel and accessories is part of what they do. And they custom make insoles on location.
They carry North Face jackets and outerwear, backpacks, purses and socks — lots of socks.
And if you join the Loyal Local Club, you get a free pair of socks on your birthday.
“Our Loyal Local Club also offers a Internet price match, a 365 day return policy, and five percent back in rewards that never expire,” she added.
Anyone who’s been on Bainbridge Island knows about the Blow Out sales that happen in mid August and mid January.
“We sell all the inventory and bring in all new for the next season,” she said. “Shoes are aggressively marked down and we sell a lot of shoes.”
Scott wants customers to know that her normal prices aren’t “up priced.”
“People sometimes think that, because this is Bainbridge Island,” she said. “But we are priced competitively and there’s no surcharge.”
About being voted the Best of Bainbridge Island in the shoe category, Scott thinks it’s because “we have a good selection of products, and people feel good about what they purchase. They know if they have a problem, they can come back and we’ll help them.”