CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Gary and Frances Muneno, who last month opened the Shoe Box in The Arcade on Merchant Street, stand with their son, Nicholas, 11, in front of a footwear display.The Shoe Box carries primarily women's shoes and jewelry, but also features some handbags, clothes and swimsuits.
Shoe Box proves a good fit
The new downtown women's boutique carries footwear designed for comfort as well as for flair
There's a little bit of sparkle inside the Shoe Box.
Tucked inside a corridor in The Arcade on Merchant Street, the newly opened boutique is a reflection of its co-owner, Frances Muneno, who runs the store with her husband, Gary.
Display shelves showcase, among other things, the latest in women's fashion -- shoes and jewelry that sparkle. Or, as Frances likes to say, items that "bling, bling," a hip-hop term dating back to the late 1990s describing diamonds, jewelry and showy accessories.
"This is my own style," Frances said. "I'm not afraid of competition. I'm choosing my own style shoes. People like what I want."
Frances, who immigrated to Hawaii from South Korea when she was 18, and Gary, a third-generation Japanese American, have operated the women's clothing store, In Fashion, in Kaimuki for the last six years.
But she and her husband decided they might fare better by streamlining their business to focus on women's shoes and opening a new shop in downtown Honolulu, across the street from City Financial Tower.
Business has not only been better than the Kaimuki store, but Frances said the Shoe Box, which debuted July 21, makes more money in its three busiest hours -- 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. -- then In Fashion makes in the 6 1/2 hours it's open during the day.
"I think shoes are easier to sell," Frances said. "A lot of people want them. If you have a certain style and the size is there, there's no question about them buying it."
The Shoe Box is, well, a little bigger than a shoe box at 311 square feet. But Gary said the shop doesn't feel congested.
"It seems real comfortable because the ceiling is high," he said. "It doesn't feel cramped that you would think a 311 square-foot (area) would be."
Any apprehension about how the Shoe Box would be received in a competitive retail area was quickly alleviated during the shop's first two days of business last month when there was a steady stream of 10 to 15 people in the shop during the peak hours of 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., and the line at the cash register was four to five people deep.
CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Frances Muneno, left, worked with Erica Oshiro on selecting a dress Thursday at the Shoe Box in downtown Honolulu.
"It was a very reassuring sign and confirmed what I was thinking all this time that I was buying the right kind of shoes," Gary said. "They were shoes that I thought were really nice, but they moved slowly down there (in Kaimuki). But when we moved them here, they were selling."
The Shoe Box, which is open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekdays and closed on weekends, sells high heels, low heels, evening shoes, prom shoes and everyday shoes that can be worn to work. In addition, the boutique offers a large selection of fashion jewelry and a small sampling of women's bags, clothes and swimsuits.
"We have a lot of teachers, tailors, secretaries, teenagers and all different kinds of people that come into the store," said Francis, who has been married to Gary for 21 years and has an 11-year-old son, Nicholas.
She said the store's location in the heart of downtown really has boosted their business.
"I guess it's population," she said. "If people park here, they can't get away from town."
Gary, who just returned a few days ago from a buying trip to the Orient, said on his overseas outing he ordered triple the quantity of shoes he normally purchases because of overwhelming demand at the downtown store. The first shipment is coming in this weekend and the second one in about two weeks.
"We found there are a lot of women with small feet, and there's a really a huge need for an outlet to provide size 5 and size 4 1/2," he said. "That's why this next shipment coming in will have an additional quantity of size 5s available, and in two weeks we'll have 4 1/2s and 5s. Our store carries shoes up to size 10."
Gary, who travels abroad every two months, said that in his most recent trip he concentrated on finding the type of shoes that would appeal to downtown workers.
"The most popular are basically low-heel shoes," he said. "That's because most people look for comfort, and they want something that if they walk around businesses, like in the downtown area, it's something that's comfortable to wear all the time. So we try to find something that fits nice in a low heel."
Women always have been infatuated by shoes. By Frances' estimation, the average woman has 25 to 30 pairs in her closet. By the same token, men only average about five to six pairs, she said.
Why so many for women?
"Because they can't have enough," Frances said. "We have to have every dress match with shoes."
Shoes also reflect how a woman is feeling, Frances said.
"Every occasion, every day, they're happy and they're sad," she said. "It all depends on their mood. They want to be red. They want to be blue. Sometimes they want to be gold. Now, it's a lot of sparkle. The bling, bling color is in -- a lot of silver."
Everything in 2006 has to shine, she added.
"The bag has sparkles on it," she said. "The shoe buckles have a shiny kind of stuff."
Frances said brown shoes -- combined with gold -- are really popular. Metallic silver shoes also are big sellers, she said.
In addition, black shoes are a mainstay, Frances said, because a lot of working people need to wear that color to go with their outfits.
Frances said that her customers at the Kaimuki store, In Fashion, didn't appear to appreciate the style and prices like they do at the Shoe Box. She also said that most of the clothes she purchased for the Kaimuki store came from Los Angeles and were made for really small sizes even though many women in Hawaii are larger.
At the Shoe Box, though, Frances feels she has found the right fit.
"I just enjoy making people happy," she said. "That is my philosophy. I don't want to compete with Wal-Mart and all the big department stores. I just do what people need and I provide for them what they need. If you compete, you're going to be crazy."
» Address: 212 Merchant St., Suite 11 in The Arcade
» Telephone: 536-3928
» Hours: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., weekdays; closed weekends