CLOSING THE RED DOOR
VAIL — Tessa and Chris Manning started selling clogs the old-fashioned way: People around town wanted to buy shoes like that.
In fact, someone once bought a pair of Tessa’s hand-painted clogs right off her feet. It was $50, more than 20 years ago.
That’s when the idea was born to sell clogs, clothes and other items, much of which comes from Tessa’s native Sweden.
After about 20 years at the location in Lionshead, the Mannings are moving. There are plans to redevelop the Lions Pride Building, and rather than wait until those plans are finalized, the Clog Cabin will leave its longtime location at the end of this ski season.
From retail to residences
The existing building, owned by longtime Vail resident Bob Lazier and his family, is expected to be replaced by both condos and underground parking. There won’t be any ground-floor retail on the site.
The impending redevelopment of the building means the Clog Cabin’s inventory is being sold at a discount, but the Mannings are still taking orders for custom-made clogs, many of which are still hand-painted by Tessa.
And the company is still very much in business.
After moving out of Lionshead, the company will continue to do business through its web portal, but the Mannings are trying to figure out how to maintain a physical presence for the store.
At the moment, the Mannings are thinking about clearing some space in the company’s warehouse/factory in Minturn, near Vail Mountain Coffee & Tea Co.’s headquarters.
The factory is an actual factory, since Swedish Clog Cabin makes its clogs in Minturn. The shoes used to be imported from Sweden, then hand-painted by Tessa. Several years ago, the Mannings bought the shoe-making equipment from a firm in North Carolina.
Tessa drove a truck’s worth of equipment back to Colorado and the couple set up at the facility in Minturn.
The Mannings would like to set up a new retail location in Vail, but retail space is expensive, perhaps prohibitively so, for a store in which many of the items sell for less than $200.
Wherever the Clog Cabin lands, it’s going to be hard to replicate the charm of the current store. The bare-wood walls are decorated from top to bottom with both merchandise and memorabilia. The wooden planks on the floor add to the funky feel. Best of all, though, is the red, two-piece front door. That door may have to come along when the store moves.
Being in Lionshead Village, the Mannings express some worries common to the area, particularly when it comes to drawing some Vail Village visitors a little bit to the west.
Finding employees has always been a challenge, too, particularly for a literal mom-and-pop operation.
But there have been plenty of high points, Tessa said.
“It’s how many people have come in, who love (the store),” she said. “We have a lot of return customers.”
The Clog Cabin is discovered by new customers every season, but there are plenty of repeat customers buying clogs, hand-painted jeans and, sometimes, trinkets from Sweden that include red-flannel Tomten figures, which are a little like leprechauns, only friendlier and more helpful.
Even with the most-red entry door in Vail, visibility has always been a bit of a problem. And, while Lazier said he’s trying to help the Mannings — “great people,” he calls them — find a different space, it’s probable that the store in some form is going to end up in Minturn, where it started before the Mannings moved the operation to Vail.
Moving is going to be hard, and not just because moving out of anyplace after 20 years is a lot of work. It’s going to be hard to leave friends and neighbors.
“It was a hard decision, but it’s the right one,” Chris said.
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and 970-748-2930.
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