Step into Sockshop & Shoe Co’s downtown location in Santa Cruz, California, and you’ll be greeted by a vibrant neon sign proclaiming “No Boring Socks.” A message many understand today – socks are an easy way to add personality to any wardrobe. However, novelty socks only truly rose to popularity in the late 1980s. Before funky, patterned, novelty socks were everywhere. There was Eric and Ellen with a vision.
As told by Eric Gil, co-founder of Sockshop, he awoke from a dream in 1984 thinking: SOCKS.
Eric told Wallace Baine in a previous Lookout article, “I had a vision waking up that I was in a room and in it was nothing but socks.” In response, Eric’s better half, Ellen shared her hesitations to this new found vision. She shares, “They would say, ‘how long do you think these guys will be in business?’ and ‘a sock store??’. I would tell Eric about these comments at night when he returned from his full time job and he would always tell me, ‘that’s great!’” To Eric, the novelty was crucial to their success. No one had done it before. It was their market to disrupt.
So, in 1988 Ellen and Eric Gil founded Sockshop. It began as a small family business with just one store selling socks. But thanks to their loyal customer base and commitment to the community, the company has steadily grown since then to include multiple storefronts in Santa Cruz and Aptos, as well as a worldwide shipping line of their own socks under the brand Socksmith Design.
Their journey hasn’t been without setbacks, however. After the Loma Prieta earthquake destroyed their first store in 1989, the Gils’ sold socks out of a large pavilion alongside other displaced businesses in Downtown Santa Cruz. But with determination and creativity, they persevered and opened another store in Capitola while waiting for their original location to be rebuilt.
As the business grew, they expanded to include “European Comfort Shoes” and changed their name to Sockshop & Shoe Company. Today, they occupy a beautiful 7,000 square foot bank building on Pacific Ave and have additional locations on the Santa Cruz Wharf and in the new Village in Aptos.
An embodiment of the “Think Local First” movement, Eric and Ellen are still very involved in their community. In January of this year they donated over $30,000 in shoes to the Santa Cruz Walnut Avenue Women’s and Family Center after the destructive new years day storms. Then most recently, after the Pajaro River levee broke, Socksmith donated 12,000 pairs of socks to displaced residents. Providing weeks worth of socks to the 1,700 evacuated men, women, and children.
The Gils’ story serves as an inspiring reminder that hard work and dedication can lead to great success. So next time you’re in Santa Cruz, be sure to stop by Sockshop & Shoe Company for some stylish and comfortable footwear options.
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