Businesses come and go, but in downtown Farmington, a handful of merchants have weathered decades of economic and technological shifts, establishing themselves as tried-and-true anchors of this vibrant, small-town community.
To celebrate these beloved local institutions, Metromode’s On the Ground Farmington project has been publishing a Fixtures of Farmington series, whereby we shine a spotlight on these businesses’ owners; chronicle each venture’s origin story; and gather insights on how and why these businesses, after so many years, continue to thrive.
In the 1970s, Farmington’s Village Shoe Inn was the third of about a half-dozen stores by that name that opened the metro Detroit area, and now it’s one of three that remain. (The other two are in Eastpointe, where its office is also based, and Rochester.) Why does owner Chuck Thibault think the Farmington location is still open for business, after almost 50 years?
Photo by David Lewinski.
“It’s centrally located, there are lots of residential, and it’s just a beautiful area,” says Thibault. “And there’s a lot of traffic on Grand River, so we’re seen by people.”
When VSI first moved into its building – which had, at one time, been a car dealership – it shared the space with four other small stores. Then, 25 years ago, VSI bought the building outright and expanded to fill the whole space.
How did the Thibault family get into shoes?
“My mother, for some reason, was fixated on shoes,” says Thibault. “She likes to tell this story about how, when she was growing up in East Detroit, a girl in her class was supposed to hold the button on the drinking fountain for her for a count of ten seconds. She stopped at two, and my mom said, ‘Mary Lou, why’d you stop at two?’ and the girl said, ‘Because you’re wearing your brother’s shoes.’ They weren’t well off, so my mom wore a lot of hand-me-downs.”
When Chuck was in high school, his mother, Marianne Thibault, worked at B. Siegel, a Detroit department store, and learned as much as she could while plotting to open a shoe store. “She went to St. Louis and brought back the inventory for her first store in a suitcase,” said Thibault. “ … On the flight back, she was talking to the guy next to her. She explained that she was starting a shoe store, and he started telling her about how many businesses fail. She came home crying, telling my dad, ‘I just spent all of your money!’ … But that guy didn’t know who he was talking to. … My mom is someone who can’t be stopped, no matter what she’s doing. She’s got a ton of drive.”
Chuck Thibault tried a few different jobs, “but I always came back to this. In high school, I’d get up and help out at the store. In college, I was there. So at one point, I just never left. I was getting married, and then we had four kids in five years, so then it became a matter of, I better make this work.” READ THE REST HERE