ToBox: When a men's shoe store is more like a man cave

GABRIELA BARRANTES / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Tung To poses with some of his favorite pairs of shoes at his shop, which sells fine-quality leather dress shoes and boots as well as causal footwear for men.
GABRIELA BARRANTES / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Tung To poses with some of his favorite pairs of shoes at his shop, which sells fine-quality leather dress shoes and boots as well as causal footwear for men.
Posted: March 13, 2014

T UNG TO, 45, of Berwyn, owns ToBox, a shoe salon designed as a living room filled with midcentury modern antiques and a fully stocked bar cart. ToBox, which opened last November on 19th Street near Chestnut, features a mix of fine men's leather dress shoes and boots as well as shoe accessories, leather bags and belts. To is a former regional shoe buyer for Nordstrom and also ran the men's shoe department at Boyds.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for ToBox?

A: I wanted to open a store where people felt like when they walked in they were coming into a friend's house. It's homey and the idea is to provide great service. I also like to carry brands that are unique to the city and are great shoes.

Q: Where did you get the money to open ToBox?

A: A lot came from savings and investments. This was an old dry-cleaning establishment and we gutted it. We had help from friends and family and built this with a $20,000 budget and a lot of sweat equity.

Q: How did you decide on the 19th Street location?

A: I can't be on Walnut because rents are too high and Chestnut is getting up there. The challenge is finding good space, foot traffic without high rents.

Q: And the name?

A: Thinking about parts of the shoe, one part is the toe box [the top of the shoe where the toes fit]. I just eliminated the "e."

Q: What differentiates ToBox from other shoe salons?

A: We offer unique, one-of-a-kind brands. John Lobb, that's No. 1, which is a handmade English brand. Scarpe di Bianco is another handmade brand, from southern Italy. I also have Yanko, a Spanish shoemaker.

Q: What do shoes in these brands cost?

A: Dress shoes are $325 up to $1,700. Casual shoes [sneakers] are $100 to $300.

Q: You also have a wide range of accessories, right?

A: My wife designs pocket squares, lapel flowers and bracelets. We also sell Saphir Shoe Care all-natural products from France. We do drop-off and pickup shoeshine and offer made-to-order shoes.

Q: What are the most popular items?

A: We sell more dress shoes than casual shoes.

Q: Your customers?

A: We get a lot of attorneys from the big law firms. Also a lot of young professionals, doctors and executives who want the classic, timeless, quality dress shoe. I'd say the age ranges from the late 20s to 50.

Q: Your competition?

A: Boyds is one, but in a sense every shoe store in the city is. I'm trying to offer the customer an experience, someone who wants expertise in fitting or fashion and how to take care of good shoes and keep them that way.


" @MHinkelman

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