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An interview with VERALENA CASELLATO KALENA’S SHOES

MARCO POLO  Happy 50th, Kalena Shoes! Celebrate half a century of business, really, Veralena?
VERALENA CASELLATO Yes absolutely, thank you. 50 years! We are very proud of that milestone.
MARCO POLO For those that have not heard your story, can you explain how you came to envision the concept of Kalena shoe store? How did you come up with the name Kalena?
VERALENA CASELLATO Kalena’s was founded in 1967 on Commercial Drive in Vancouver’s Little Italy, by our parents Carmen and Isa D’Onofrio. They married in 1967 and went to Italy on their honeymoon which incidentally doubled as their first buying trip. As newly arrived Italian immigrants to Canada they had a hard time finding the quality, fashion forward, footwear that they grew up with. This in why they decided to import directly from Italy, leather shoes and handbags. Our parents also maintained a love for their native Italy and its culture and traditions and have instilled them into their children and grandchildren.
Most people assume that the store is named after our last name, but it is actually named for the nick name of our father’s home town, Casacalenda which is located in Molise, Italy. KALENA’S was also the name of our father’s soccer team which may be the real reason he named the store KALENA’S. He was a passionate soccer fan.
MARCO POLO What are your criteria for bringing in new brands?
VERALENA CASELLATO We have carried many different brands over the years, all Made in Italy and all leather. When we say leather it means soft, supple high quality leather both uppers and linings. The soles are often leather as well. We carry shoes for both men and women. We look for reputable manufacturers who produce lines for name brands like Prada and Valentino and commission them to produce our own line of KALENA’S shoes. We also carry, Iceburg, Doucal’s, Enrico Bruni, Xsa, Carmen, and Marino Orlandi just to name a few.
MARCO POLO Do you carry any made in North America brands or just Made in Italy?
VERALENA CASELLATO 95% of our products are Made in Italy. We have recently began carrying GEOX and Birkenstock because as lifestyles have become more casual in urban areas there has been a greater demand for this type of product. Geox is an Italian company that manufactures in various different countries and Birkenstock is Made in Germany.
MARCO POLO Do you have a favorite brand? Or maybe a top 3?
VERALENA CASELLATO KALENA’S will always be my favourite brand as it represents Italian craftsmanship and high fashion. There is an implied level of quality behind our brand.
MARCO POLO What’s your favourite thing about owning a shoe shop? Why? (i.e. what gives you satisfaction?)
VERALENA CASELLATO KALENA’s feels like home to me. Our parents have 4 children but they have often joked that KALENA’S was their first child. I understand that, because they have invested so much of their time and energy into the business over the years. It has provided for our family and has allowed us many opportunities that we would not have had without it.
I have spent so such time in the store and on buying trips to Italy with my parents that it is like a part of the family for me too. Several of our staff members have been with us for many years. We like to treat our customers with warm, personalized service, and perhaps that has kept them coming back over the last 50 years.
MARCO POLO What’s the most memorable experience you’ve had working with a customer?
VERALENA CASELLATO Customers often like to share their shoe buying experiences at our store with me. They often recall a story about my father, he was a character and made our customers feel like he was doing them a favour selling them a pair of Kalena’s shoes. He knew you only had to buy your first pair and then you would be back. Our product speaks for itself. Buying shoes always makes people happy and it is fun to share in their joy.
MARCO POLO Any big plans that you can divulge for the future? A new store?
VERALENA CASELLATO KALENA’S has had many different locations over our 50 year history. Robson Street, Royal Centre, Oakridge Centre but Kalena’s on Commercial Drive has always been our flagship store. We are currently looking into expanding our online sales as retail is changing in that direction.
MARCO POLO What is the most important thing that you have learned about the shoe industry since starting your store? Positives & Negatives?
VERALENA CASELLATO The shoe industry is a tough one in that shoes stores need to carry a lot of inventory. There are many different sizes to stock with shoes, more so that clothing and other merchandise. So for that reason it can be challenging and can be costly upfront to start a shoe store.
Business in general is takes a lot of time and effort and is always changing. Also business can be difficult but it is also rewarding and offers new experiences and challenges which keeps it fresh and exciting.
MARCO POLO Lastly, if there was anything that you could have done differently, would you have? Or did everything go exactly as planned?
VERALENA CASELLATO Nothing ever goes exactly as planned but business as in life like takes us off on tangents and it’s how we adapt and grow that makes us who we are. We are proud to continue the legacy of KALENA’S that our parent began for us 50 years ago.
KALENA’S is also the birthplace of STILE BRANDS, our family’s liquor agency which was founded in 1991 in KALENA’S shoe store on Commercial Drive. Our first bottles of Italian Montepulciano were imported and my dad went on to become the first importer of Prosecco in Canada. Like Italian shoes our parents had a passion for Italian wine and only wanted to sell quality products that they themselves believed in and would enjoy. This philosophy remains true to this day.

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