There are quite a few clothing stores in downtown San Francisco. Some are common and approachable, like Uniqlo and Macy’s, while others like Nieman Marcus and Wilkes Bashford are only for the true ballers among us. Of course, it should come as no surprise that my favorite store is neither of these things – it is small, unassuming, and focused on doing just one thing but doing it well. It’s something surprisingly unique to the Bay Area, too – the Alden Shop of San Francisco.
I know what you’re thinking: “I thought Alden was a Massachusetts brand! It says ‘New England’ right there in the photo!” Well, you’re not wrong, but it’s a bit more complicated than that. Alden shoes are indeed made in New England, and they’re sold at high-end retailers all over the world. What makes the San Francisco shop unique is that it is one of only two stores that is directly affiliated with the factory (the other one is in Washington, D.C.). For that reason, it is the biggest – and best – collection of Alden shoes anywhere.
As most of you know, Alden is considered by many to be the quintessential American shoe company; although there were many in decades past, most of them have declined into corrected grain oblivion. Fortunately for us, Alden has continued to make exceptionally handsome and comfortable shoes out of wonderful materials. These shoes are not particularly dressy, sleek, or sexy; rather, they’re solid, informal, and decidedly American-looking.
I had a chance to chat with Mike Golden, general manager of the store, and we discussed a few aspects of the San Francisco shop that make it unique. The first is its breadth – the store has a huge amount of styles, most of which are available in a large size range (from 6AA to 14EEE). I personally verified this by taking a quick peek in the back room – there are thousands of little green boxes back there. If you order a pair of Aldens online from their website the order will be fulfilled from the San Francisco shop for this reason.
The second point of distinction is that the shop carries many unique models due to its close relationship with the factory. You will often see shoes and boots bear the store’s name on their insole, a sign that they were made expressly for this location. Some models catch on and are brought into the regular rotation. Others end up on the top-secret sale display in the back of the shop (it’s one of the very few places you can find discounted Aldens).
The last (and perhaps the most important) unique aspect of the SF Alden shop is their access to rare makeups. Those that keep up with the shell cordovan scene know that Alden is one of the best companies around when it comes to working with the unique material, and that there are many rare models that never get to see the light of day. Colors like cigar, whiskey, and ravello are made in very small quantities by Horween and are extremely difficult to find. Mike told me that they never advertise the available stock in these rare models because they sell so quickly. What’s a blogger to do, then? Just give the store a call and they’ll happily tell you what they have in the back room. In fact, while I was chatting with the staff, we had to pause for an incoming phone call – a gentleman wanted a pair of 12D longwings in whiskey cordovan, and it was his lucky day.
Alden’s prolific use of Horween shell cordovan has made them popular in many circles, but it’s important to remember that they have many other classic models as well. Personally, my favorite are Alden’s suede shoes. They are soft, supple, and come in a beautiful array of colors – I have a hard time resisting the urge to buy them whenever I stop in.
I took a few pictures around the tiny store, but the best way to experience it is to stop by. The shop is small enough that you could walk right by it if you weren’t paying attention, but that’s just part of what makes it so special. It’s like a little secret club for people that appreciate simplicity and good taste. Be sure to take a peek next time you’re in the area.
Suede unlined loafers – perfect for summer.
The Horween Cordovan wall – only black and #8 colors are displayed.
Unlined bluchers – I’m hoping to grab a pair in suede soon.
Nobody does tassel loafers better then Alden.
Blue suede shoes.
A simple but rare shoe – Alden’s chukka boot in Horween ravello cordovan.