For an indie shop owner, opening a second place is a bold move in these economic times. Takara Beathea -Gudell is bolder yet. A few months ago, the Oak Parker with a namesake shop on Marion Street opened a second place on the same block. For the passion – and guts – that heeled the launch of Shoe Soko, Beathea-Gudell was named Merchant of the Year.

“Takara is a huge asset to Downtown Oak Park,” says Pat Zubak, director of the nonprofit corporation that manages and markets the village’s central business district. “What she brings really resonates with her customers. She defines what boutique means.”

In Swahili, the name of the new shop at 111 N. Marion means “marketplace.” And just as Beathea-Gudell stocks her clothing and accessories shop at 123 N. Marion with hard-to-find eco-friendly lines, she’s filling the 1,100-square-foot space with styles of funky footwear that are as much about social responsibility as they are about the look.

Dress shoes made from vegetable-tanned leathers, which don’t release chemicals into the environment, sit alongside sandals made from hemp and natural latex. “Resists alkali, water, acid, fatigue and Satan” reads a message inside one line of boots.

The furnishings are a green fit, too. To display stock that arrives from across the world, Beathea-Gudell shopped local resale shops, such as The Brown Elephant.

“I give her a lot of credit,” says Louise Mihalik, a Marion Street neighbor as co-owner of Lido’s Caffe. “It’s marvelous that she’s not letting the economy stop her.”

Beathea-Gudell is focused, methodical and optimistic. Neither a slowdown in consumer spending – it’s “off-kilter right now,” she calmly says – nor a crowded specialty market faze her. Asked about three other shoe salons in Oak Park and two nearby in Forest Park, Beathea-Gudell says of Shoe Soko: “I don’t see it as a competition but an addition to what Oak Park already has to offer.”

Price ranges from $48 to $350. Stock comes from across the world. Many shoes are made by hand.

“She has such a great atmosphere,” says Zubak. “It makes you feel like you’re going to go in there and be pampered.”

Beathea-Gudell, an Oak Parker for a decade, also has made her new shop a spot for community connections to help local social service agencies. She has been collecting gently worn shoes for Hephzibah Children’s Association. For every donation, there’s a 10 percent discount at Shoe Soko.

Beathea-Gudell is a veteran of local retail. Six years ago, she opened Willow on Harrison Street, in the Oak Park Arts District, and then spun off her namesake shop. She moved to a single storefront on Marion Street two years ago after consolidating her Harrison Street shops into Takara.

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The space that she moved into for Shoe Soko was vacated in January by Crescent Moon. Home to a gift shop, it didn’t require extensive remodeling after being vacant for three months. It took Beathea-Gudell two months and some of her son’s help to replace the hardware and flooring, which, she says, originally had four floors underneath.

“It just needed a good cleaning and a good paint,” says Beathea-Gudell.

She’s in the new shop daily – a presence appreciated by neighboring merchants, who know an owner’s engagement in a business venture can bode well for the district.

“She is very confident in her investment,” says Owen Skelly, owner of the Marion Street Gallery.

“She also has a very good following,” Mihalik, at Lido’s, adds.

David King, the commercial leasing agent who represented Beathea-Gudell in getting into the new space, also is an observer of local retail.

“This is a snapshot of what’s going to pull us out of what’s going on in the world right now,” King said this spring as Beathea-Gudell was working on prepping the space. “It’s the small entrepreneur, the small business person that really drives this country.”

Staff reporter Marty Stempniak contributed to this report.

Shoe Soko

• 111 N. Marion, Oak Park

• 708-848-7656

• 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Tuesday-Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Noon to 4 p.m. Sunday

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