NEWBERRY — For 103 years a brick-and-mortar establishment at 1215 Main St. in Newberry sold shoes. Thanks to Gina Lester, the store is open again for shoe sales but this time with an Italian flair as the Via 1215 boutique.
Via means street in Italian and Lester wants to replicate the Italian boutique experience in her store.
Before opening she brainstormed ideas with Eddie Anderson, former owner and operator of Anderson Shoes, a downtown institution for over a century. It was also the store where her mother worked as a teenager for Anderson’s father.
She wanted to put her own spin on the “sit and fit” that Anderson’s Shoe store prided itself on.
“This is a true sit and fit like Mr. Eddie did all those years,” Lester said. “We are a boutique, not a store. Come in here am make people feel better when they walk out those doors than they did when they came in, that’s my goal.”
Most designers featured are of Italian origin or of Italian influence. The building has a red carpet runway theme, with red and white floor tile. She did the design and layout of the interior and used local contractors for the changes.
Lester never traveled to Italy but has traveled extensively across the United States.
“I’ve spent time on the east coast and west coast, in New York and Australia, Tanzania and New Zealand, too,” she said.
Lester said she has a gift of soaking up culture, customs, fashion and architecture when she visits and place and that she later can draw upon that knowledge while working in the fashion world.
The travels show up in some of the eclectic items on the shelves such as a green dress that reminds one of a safari or geometric prints with floral patterns that appeal tribal.
“As I look at the product presented (at trade) shows, I think of the story to tell that lies beyond the surface,” she said.
Many of the shoes are handmade. Jack Rogers shoes are on her second shelf, a fashion made popular by Jackie Kennedy Onassis among others. Some styles are French and others are made Mexico, with a few made in the United States.
With couches and a laid back environment including music by Dave Matthews Band, her goal is a laid back, fun environment where shopping is a pleasure, not a rush.
Lester fondly recalls going shopping with her mother in downtown Newberry, how she knew shop owners by name and how she looked forward to those excursions.
She said Christie Whitaker recently came with her daughters to shop for clothes to wear to a summertime wedding.
“She shopped in a Polish line of dresses and it felt so good to watch her expression and how beautiful she looked when she put the dresses on,” she said. “The whole event had a feel sort of like girls playing in mom’s closet.”
When pressed, Gina Lester says Via 1215 channels her playing dress up in her aunt’s kitten heel alligator pumps.
Playing in her aunt’s closet helped shape Lester’s sense of style and got her interested in local pageants back in the day.
A 1985 graduate of Mid-Carolina High School, she participated in Miss Mid-Carolina and other local pageants and she wants to be a resource for girls who like to compete in pageants as well.
For 20 years, Gina Shealy Lester did e-marketing and consulting for clients in the southeast doing risk management for large users of oil and natural gas. She helped them budget despite a changing commodities market by hedging, selling and buying on futures. Companies she assisted included SCE&G and Hess among others.
About the time this became available one of her good friends bought and launched Figaro’s. She decided to start her own retail business as well.
The local ties made the opportunity so timely and attractive to her. As someone who grew up here and treasures the way downtown was back then, she said she has a vested interest in the business and keeping the service and quality up to the standards of those who went before her.
“My children were fitted for their first shoes here, (and though I traveled a lot for work), I stopped by sometimes on weekends just to chat with the Andersons,” she said. “I treasure that relationship where Mr. Eddie is something like a surrogate parent.”
She said she embraces carrying on the traditions of customer service and quality that her mentor Anderson did.
“I want to be the lady that the 4-year-old child knows (who enjoys shopping with her mom),” she said. “Some of my fondest memories of Newberry involve going into stores like Fashion, Carpenters and Bergen’s with my mom. Newberry is a classy town and people dress the part.”
Her business is on Facebook, Instagram and a website under development. Store hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays.
In six months to a year she will consider an e-commerce strategy. For now if someone would like to order online, they need to message her for details.
“This is my hometown and I plan to be here for the long haul,” she said. “I want to the that person in the rocking chair overseeing the business where my former employees and their children one day will be able to shop.”