Friday, April 4, 2014

The Armadillos in my Closet


by guest writer Randi Winter, Passionate Travel (& so much more - see bio below)

Fay (right) is a regular at fashion events around town such
as Eco Fashion Week's event at Holt Renfrew. With writer 
Randi Winter (left) and myself in the centre.
Doesn't everyone want a secret source for clothes that define who you are, ensure you will not see your doppelganger at events and just wearing it brings out your “I got such a deal and no one knows” secret smile? Are you confident in your personal brand-but not directly related to a sewing maven, nor is anyone “in the business”? Are you "in"?

Coming from New York puts high expectations on shopping experiences and opportunities. From New York to LA, or Miami to Montreal, in North America we see the same brands in most major stores, with the odd exclusive style or name. It is hard if you are not interested in paying to have someone else’s name where your personal stamp of style belongs.

Long before Vancouver had Holt Renfrew, or Costco selling Prada and Gucci bags, we still had Woodward’s, Eaton’s and The Hudson Bay (the original). These titans of aggregated “department-ed” stores anchored the shopping experience and Oakridge Mall was a suburban novelty. Of course we had niche stores like Chapmans, Speiser Furs, Ingeldew's, Vanessa and other local upscale bastions of good taste and style. For those “in the know” it was Showmart’s sample sales. Gastown had “characters”- not Fluevog - and Aritzia was just a twinkle in Hill’s of Kerrisdale’s eye. Commercial Drive was where to go for custom shoes and Italian styling…but not necessarily style.

Left - Cody & Randi, Centre & Right - Fay &customers in the boutique





I arrived in Vancouver in 1972 when they rolled the sidewalks up at 9PM except at the Hotel 
Vancouver Roof or The Cave (forget my first 9 months of hibernation in Edmonton). I feverishly planned my back-to-New-York experiences revolving around eating, shopping, reviving my sense of culture and then more shopping. After all, Robson Street was Robsonstrasse where you ate schnitzel and shopped for a dirndl or lederhosen while 4th Avenue invoked shades of hippiedom, not hip.

That lasted till 1981 when I found Armadillo Boutique. Fay and Lee Jensen wanted to use their insider connections to make women of all sizes and ages stylish in a more global way and without a lease. (They stayed for 25 years before Canada Line construction transited them to their current location at 7912 Granville Street). They started as the Tupperware of clothes, the Mary Kay of personal style; having home parties long before the shopping network was a glimmer in the imagination of the late night infomercial. Their Cambie Street storefront was dedicated to make international designers and unique clothing available and affordable in Vancouver.



Finally, Loehman’s, Filene’s and Alexander’s (all now gone to shopping heaven) had some competition. During the 80's & 90’s Armadillo sales had line ups to get in, to the changing rooms and to pay. It was 450 square feet of Madness. No dainty shopping bags, they packed our treasures in orange lawn garbage bags and usually needed more than one. Naked women were everywhere with a single chair at the front for any brave males. On Saturdays, Rolls Royce's waited outside for Lee to wheel purchases on rolling racks to load in emptied trunks. 

“Our client base was & still is a broad range from the bank teller to society women. We cater to 4 generations: Mother, Daughter, Grandmother & now Granddaughters to this day. How many small independents can do that?” recalls Fay Jensen with a big smile and a small sigh. Lee’s Mom Roni is now replaced by their son Cody and some changes are in the works to replace the sample size shoes with menswear but the jewelry, readers and accessories stay. Their end of season sales are still legendary and some purchases are so discounted they almost cry! (Sign of a really good deal.)

Four plus generations of Armadillo Boutique clients.. Irma Harriet Spector Lee wearing a gift from Lee and Fay Yamamoto Jensen as a 90th birthday present. Irma would bring a suitcase filled with NY deli for Randi and go home with Armadillos for her closet!
I knew I was onto something when my mom and my friends who came to visit soon considered augmenting “The Armadillos in my closet” to be a “must do” immediately upon arrival with intermediate visits for the Loehman’s like fresh stock from the warehouse. This relegated the grand kids to second place and me to a well-dressed but distant third! Except on Sundays and Mondays when Armadillo is closed.

Randi Winter in Armadillo
vest and eye frames from
The Optical Boutique

Fay, Lee and Cody Jensen, Lillian Ginn and Shelley Cohen (plus all the deals) can be found Tuesday to Saturday 1030-530 at 7912 Granville Street (and 63rd). Phone 604 261-0840 FB Armadillo-Boutique twitter @Armdillob (Mandarin, Cantonese, Indonesian, Korean and Taiwanese spoken-but money talks too!) Watch for new website currently under development - www.armadilloboutique.com

Randi Winter is a New Yorker by birth who promised her mother she would never lose her NY pizazz. She is a Virtuoso Specialist in and Journalist of Inspired Pursuits (shopping should always be inspiring). Her website is www.passionatetravel.com. She is an active community supporter and mentor for local and global philanthropic and non profits including leadership and facilitator positions at BC Association of Travel Writers, CHW, University Women's Club TRAVEL!, Team Helping Diabetes, The Besa Project, International Perfume Foundation, Four Pillars Project. She is always pleased to be mistaken for Marilyn. Contact: randi@passionatetravel.com FB Randi Lee Winter and Passionate Travel, twitter @randiwinter @passionatetrvl Pinterest passionatetrvl

2 comments:

  1. Thank you Marilyn for allowing me to share some of my favorite Vancouver shopping moments with your readers.. and to share this best kept insider shopping secret. One of the newest developments, the soon to be dropped sample size shoes, is fine by me, because even cutting off my toes would not help me get into a size 6-7 shoe! Excited that soon I can get Sam more excited about coming to Armadillo in the near future so he can have some Armadillos in his closet too!

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