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Calistoga's Azusa shoe store closing its doors, another COVID-19 casualty
Downtown

Calistoga's Azusa shoe store closing its doors, another COVID-19 casualty

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Lisa Johnston has been in business in one form or another on Lincoln Avenue in Calistoga for 36 years. She’s survived economic downturns, wildfires, and PSPS events. But now, with COVID-19 restrictions, she says she’s lost the one thing she needs to stay in business – hope.

Johnston has owned and operated Azusa shoe store for the last eight years, but will close the store in October due to a lack of business and mounting debt.

“During the wildfires, I always felt hope that we could come back. Now, I feel boxed in. We’re being shut down, and people aren’t shopping. I don’t feel like it’s going to get better,” she said.

The store’s closing follows closely on the heels of two other long-time businesses on Lincoln Avenue that have closed in the last few months for the same reason: Enoteca wine shop and All Season’s Bistro.

Johnston said her landlords have gone out of their way to help, by giving her encouragement, a break on the rent, and, like many locals in town, have tried to help keep her in business by coming in and buying shoes. But it’s not enough.

“I just don’t know what to do anymore. I can’t pay the bills,” she said.

Shop local. Seriously.

Before the shoe store, Johnston owned a juice bar/bakery downtown, then a clothing and jewelry store called Zenobia which she ran for about 18 years.

At the bakery, she once sold brownies to Brad Pitt and chocolate ice cream to Harrison Ford.

At Azusa, she once sold a pair of yellow boots to pop/rock singer Pink (“She was the nicest girl”) and shoes to actress Diane Lane (“That’s the only time I got excited. ‘Under the Tuscan Sun’ was my favorite movie.”)

Johnston loves what she does. She puts a lot of herself into the store’s space. Pointing to a white, wicker display table she said, “I got this out of a trash can when I was 14 years old.” Another display table is her mother’s old sewing machine table.

She also might ask you to take your shoes off and tell you what kind of shape your feet are in, and what kind of shoes would fit properly to provide support.

Nowadays, Johnston thanks customers for using the hand sanitizer placed just inside the door and says, “Feel like you’re a guest in my home, because you are.”

You can’t get that kind of service at Amazon.

Johnston recounts how more and more people are buying online, as evidenced by the number of customers who come into the store, spend a lot of time trying on shoes, and then tell her they are going to purchase the same shoes on Amazon.

“’I need to see how they fit,’ they tell me,” Johnston said, noting her prices are the same as or better than on online. “They just don’t get it. And that’s happening more and more. I don’t feel like I can work any harder. I cannot try any harder. I’m here seven days a week, and I’ve been working seven days a week nearly my entire adult life.”

The cost of making shoes has also gone up, she said, so the profit margin is smaller.

Ideally, Johnston would like to sell the business and show someone the ropes. For her next incarnation, she’s looking for a job where she can also be of service. Aside from working every day of the week, she’s cooking and helping a couple of friends who have cancer.

“People always say ‘be nice to the janitor’ — I’m the janitor. And everybody who works in or owns a store is the janitor. Be nice,” she said. “The other thing people say is ‘shop local.’ Seriously, shop local. We want to keep our small stores alive. Amazon has plenty of money and they don’t give anything back. Our tax money goes to support our town, and our kids’ activities.”

Johnston says she’ll miss being on the main drag in town.

“Our whole town is service-oriented. It’s a really nice group of people. It’s my whole life. I have had a great run and I’ve loved it.”

Watch Now: Things you won’t see in hotels anymore thanks to COVID-19

You can reach Cynthia Sweeney at 942-4035 or csweeney@weeklycalistogan.com.

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The Weekly Calistogan Editor

Cynthia Sweeney has been editor of The Weekly Calistogan since July, 2018. Previously, she was a reporter for the St. Helena Star, and North Bay Business Journal. She also spent a significant amount of time freelancing in Hawaii.

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