‘Bittersweet’: Baggins Shoes, in downtown Victoria for 55 years, to close retail shop this fall

'Bittersweet': Baggins Shoes, in downtown Victoria for 55 years, to close retail shop this fall
The interior of Baggins Shoes is pictured, Tuesday, May 28, 2024.

The owners of Baggins Shoes in downtown Victoria are taking a step in a different direction as they announce the closure of their decades-old retail shop, which they say offers “one of the largest selections of Converse in the world.”

Co-owner Tara Savrtka says the store at 580 Johnson St. will close for good this October. She tells CHEK News it’s “bittersweet,” especially considering Baggins has been around for 55 years, but notes it’s a much-needed change.

“Definitely going to miss it. But I’m excited for what’s to come,” said Savrtka in an interview Tuesday, the same day she and Glen Lynch, who opened the store all those years ago, announced Baggins would be shuttering come fall.

“Retail isn’t really making sense for us anymore. We love our customers and we love selling shoes, but downtown’s changed, our business intraversally has changed,” said Savrtka, adding that Lynch, now 75, plans to step back.

“With everything going on, it kind of became a ‘perfect storm,’ for lack of a better term, that it made sense to decide to close our store.”

But as one door closes, another one opens.

“We’re walking away on our own terms,” said Savrtka.

Once the shop on Johnson is no more, they plan to move full-time to another location on Government Street, where they’ll continue with e-commerce sales and their custom print shop. Customers will be able to pick up their online shoe orders there.

“Part of the reason we’ve been around so long is because we see opportunity and act on it. We’ve adapted before and we’ll continue to thrive, just in a different way,” said Lynch.

“Online is really, really big. Definitely since COVID, people shop online. And we have, luckily, been online since basically the early 2000s, so we have a good e-commerce platform and have a following of people,” added Savrtka.

“We ship worldwide, but especially in Canada.”

Costs outweigh the benefits

Still, moving out of the well-known shop on Johnson was a tough decision “for sure,” says Savrtka. “Being in the community for 55 years, that weighs heavy on your shoulders. And obviously, the staff as well, making that decision and having people who have been with you for a long time have to move on.”

She says they’re dealing with a changing landscape.

The owners have noticed a shift in foot traffic along Johnson, adding in the release that it’s decreased “an estimated 30-50 per cent in recent years.”

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Savrtka says this was a “major” consideration, along with operating costs.

“Our foot traffic over the last year was down 20 per cent, and down about 40 per cent from 2019. We track that, so we are very much aware of that change.

“In addition, the cost of doing business downtown financially is outweighing the benefits in some ways,” she said. “And then the perception of downtown and safety and all those things, and the narrative around it, once again just made sense that now is the time to make the changes.”

She notes that while there’s been an “influx” of people moving into the downtown core thanks to new development, “that isn’t necessarily equating to more people in stores on the ground level.”

Earlier this year, Lululemon announced it would be closing its Johnson Street location, right next to Baggins, for a new storefront in Customs House at the foot of Wharf and Government.

“Lulu’s been talking about changing their location for years,” said Savrtka. “And for them as well, I think it became an opportunity for them to make a change.”

Speaking with CHEK News in April, a spokesperson from Colliers Real Estate Services said downtown Victoria’s storefront vacancy rate was around 9.2 per cent, while the rate for all of Greater Victoria was seven per cent or so.

Ty Whittaker of Colliers said these numbers were favourable from a national perspective, considering Calgary’s vacancy rate at the time was about 30 per cent.

Converse a shoo-in, says Savrtka

Savrtka’s recalling how Baggins, now known for its “funky, unforgettable, quirky” atmosphere, began.

“(Glen) named the store Baggins, ironically, he’s never read ‘The Hobbit.’ But in 1969, it was the most popular book, so he decided he should name his shop after something that was on trend. So he picked Baggins and to this day, I don’t think he’s ever read the book,” laughed Savrtka.

“He may have seen the movie by now.”

At first, Baggins was located above a tailor shop before moving to Bastion Square.

Back then, Lynch didn’t actually sell shoes “but paraphernalia and hippy-related things,” said Savrtka. “He started carrying clothing a few years later and that started to do well for him. Then he moved to Market Square and was there for quite a long time.

“In approximately the mid-90s, he got approached by Converse to carry Chucks, and because he had worn them as a kid for gym class, he was very fond of the brand. He took the leap and started bringing in Chucks and it very quickly started taking over everything else,” she said.

“Then Baggins Shoes was born from there.”

Savrtka, who’s been involved with Baggins for more than a decade and bought in about six years ago, says there are too many retail memories to mention.

Now, she’s looking forward to making new ones in the heightened online era.

“I think long-term, that’s where things are going. But who knows, maybe five years down the road I will change my mind and restart something. But, for now, with everything going on and our lease coming up,” she added.

“A big thanks to our loyal Victorians and all the wonderful staff who’ve made this business great and kept me out of trouble over the years,” said Lynch.

The pair is inviting customers to take advantage of special closing sales and promotions in the coming months. Find Baggins online here.


Ethan MorneauEthan Morneau

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