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Sneakers and slip-ons: How Comfort One Shoes adapted to the pandemic

Faced with a drastic disruption in foot traffic, Alexandria-based Comfort One Shoes had to pivot. The pandemic forced the company to focus its energy on online sales, bringing in more casual merchandise and closing the Union Station location in D.C.

Company President Garrett Breton says the efforts made 2021 sales higher than the pre-pandemic year of 2019.

“The Old Town locations (200 and 201 King Street) are on fire right now,” Breton told ALXnow. “People are wanting to go out and do stuff. They want to see their friends, and they need new shoes, because if you try to put your old dress shoes back on and go to the office, even if it’s one day a week, you’re pretty miserable.”

Comfort One Shoes sells brands around the world like Mephisto, BeautifeelEcco and Dansko at its 14 locations in Maryland, Virginia and D.C. The company’s Dupont Circle location has been the most successful of the stores for years, but the reduction in Metro traffic has changed things.

“Before we went into the pandemic Dupont Circle was our number one volume store,” Breton said. “It won’t be for a really long time, maybe never again. It’s based on downtown commuter traffic. People have to walk from the metro to their jobs. I don’t know when offices are coming back. It is what it is.”

Breton became president in January 2020 after the retirement of his father, Maurice, who opened the first Comfort One at 201 King Street nearly 30 years ago. A lifelong Alexandrian and 1998 graduate of Bishop Ireton High School, the younger Breton says that, in the early days of the pandemic, he was challenged to temporarily lay off staff he’d known most of his life. The company employs just under 100 employees, and all its stores closed between one-to-four months in 2020.

During those first months of the pandemic, Breton said, more focus was put on internet sales and he’d have to shift from buying dress shoes to casual shoes and sneakers.

“The online business grew at around 40% at the end of that crazy year (2020), and by last September we exceeded 2019 numbers,” Breton said. “That’s with tons and tons of athletic shoes, and that was not even a part of our business 10 years ago. Nobody is buying dress shoes right now. We’re selling lots of athletic shoes and a lot more slippers — shoes you just slide on to run out quickly.”

Via Comfort One/Facebook

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