We often hear, “if a shoe fits, wear it.” And for one local business owner, the shoe(s) fit perfectly.
Elena Brennan owns Bus Stop Boutique, a unique shop boasting designer shoes, handbags and accessories. Originally from London, the local small business owner came to the city in 1985 and worked in advertising for 27 years (across both ends of the pond) before deciding to open Bus Stop in 2007.
“Advertising became very computerized and when it did, clients just wanted everything faster and cheaper… and it just didn’t feel good anymore,” Brennan explains. Timing had to be right for her, being a single mom for a portion of her corporate time. And it was, on her son’s 18th birthday.
“It happened organically, but it seems like it was meant to be,” she continues. “I love shoes. When I lived in Europe, I used to travel a lot and I would always buy shoes on a trip. People used to stop me and say, where did you get your shoes from? And they were never from Philly. I couldn’t find the shoes that I wanted to wear in Philly, so I thought you know what? I think there’s a call for a shoe boutique [here.] So that’s how that came about.”
The concept is nostalgic for Brennan, whose parents also worked in retail. Back when she was a teenager, there was another shop in London’s Kensington High Street with a name that stuck with the shop owner (although they didn’t sell shoes.) When it closed down and Brennan realized it was time to open her own, Bus Stop Boutique was born.
Brennan found the space at the end of January in 2007, and then was open by April of that same year. Part of that was because she didn’t need a loan thanks to setting money aside for years, and part of that was also from her passion.
But that doesn’t mean it was easy…in fact, “It was nerve-wracking,” Brennan explains. “I remember going to my first trade show. I [had] just signed the lease and I went to buy some inventory. Everybody was so nice. But you know, I didn’t even have a business card to give them, all I could tell them was that I was opening a shoe boutique because it all happened really quickly.”
Bus Stop officially opened its doors 15 years ago, and since then the shop has acquired a name and reputation for itself—and for some high-quality but not well-known shoe brands.
“I curate the selection of shoes, shoes you wouldn’t find on the high street or [at the] department store. I call them boutique brands,” Brennan explains. “I get to know the designers personally, they’re sort of smaller labels. My biggest brand is probably Vagabond, the others, customers have never heard of them before— but it’s great because I share the story behind the brand and then they become fans. So, it’s a collection of shoes for women who want to stand out in a crowd and look a little bit different… good quality, comfortable—I don’t sell five-inch heels. But it’s [also] not earthy brands, it’s fashion brands that are well made at different price points.”
In 2015, Brennan decided she was ready to take the boutique and the business to the next level. So, she started designing shoes (titled BUS STOP X.) She collaborated with one of the brands that Bus Stop carries, All Back Footwear. The shoes are designed in Philadelphia, and they are handcrafted by artisans in Taipei through a family-owned, family-run business.
“All the shoes I design are in limited quantity. Maybe 10 per color, at the most 15 or 16. So, customers feel really unique in a pair of shoes that I design,” explains Brennan.
As any small business owner would know, there were ups and downs, and the most challenging being in 2020. During Covid, Bus Stop was closed for three months, and luckily, the shop had soft-launched a website just months before. That allowed the store to pivot since most of their sales were from foot traffic at the time. That meant focusing on the online portion, hiring someone to conduct an SEO makeover to the site, and adding a refund policy, free shipping and curbside pick-up/delivery with Brennan herself sometimes making the distributions.
Thankfully, the boutique made it through, and there were some lessons learned and advice solidified in the process.
For anyone else on the path to opening a small business, Brennan suggests: “Do your research. Really make sure that you’re going to start something that there is a demand for… then make sure you have a good team to work with.” According to the boutique owner, that is in reference to your accountant, the person who’s going to build the website, the team that works for you etc.
She also points out to: “Feel passionate about what you’re going to do, and you’re going to succeed. But, it’s a lot of work, and you have to be dedicated, and you have to stay true to your intrinsic core values and be authentic. Also, it’s good to re-invent yourself in your business.”
Bus Stop Boutique officially turns 15 this year, and to commemorate, the shop on Fabric Row was closed down for a week (it reopened on Feb. 27) and a new collection will be coming out, (“It’s really loud and bold,” Brennan remarks.) There will also be a party for the occasion sometime in the spring.
On top of the anniversary, Brennan has plenty to celebrate since winning Best International Business Woman of the Year from a prestigious UK organization—The Best Business Women Awards—which celebrates female entrepreneurs all over the world. Brennan became a finalist and flew to London for the ceremony in October of last year. To do so, she had to submit a proposal.
“It was good because it made me look back over the 15 years and really look back at all of the things I’ve accomplished because you forget… you forget all of the achievements you’ve made in the past,” Brennan explains.
Now revving up for the warm season and definitely a busier spring than we’ve seen in two years in Philly, Bus Stop Boutique is ready for more business, and as Brennan puts it: “I encourage women who love shoes to come and see me.”
To find out more information on Bus Stop Boutique (727 S 4th St.) visit busstopboutique.com