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Nowadays, made-to-order shoes are all the hype, but in the early days of the Van Doren Rubber Co., they were the stan- dard mode of operations. When seasoned shoemakers Paul and Jim Van Doren came out West and set up a shoe factory in Southern California with their partners Gordon Lee and Serge D’Elia, they offered shoes made to order – delivered on the same day. An idea that would have sneakerheads today drool- ing from the side of their mouths. The first Vans store opened on March 15, 1966, on 704 East Broadway in Anaheim, California. They were offering three dif- ferent shoe styles, priced $2.49, $4.49, and $4.99 (equivalent of $14.99, $27.00 and $29.99 today). Customers could pick the style of their choosing by looking at a range of sample shoes on display – the only actual shoes in the 400-square-foot store. The rest of the store space had been decorated with empty boxes for lack of actual stock. After deciding on their style, customers could spend a day on the beach and return in the afternoon to pick up their custom- made sneakers. Pretty cool. A design classic As far as shoe design went, early Vans were much in the tradi- tion of casual beach shoes inspired by sailing sneakers and the like, with a soft sole and canvas top construction. Sticking to this basic formula, Vans shoes would continue to evolve through constant experiments over the years. Soon enough, the small shoe brand from California had grown into a success- ful business with over 70 outlet stores open all across Califor- nia by 1974. Their eye for hands-on learning also led to improve- ments in the company’s trademark soles. The first models came in a diamond pattern with two choices of sole colors – blue and gray, with the gray ones made from harder rubber. Skaters would mostly opt for the blue soles for more control – they were still warming up to the idea of wear- ing shoes in the first place. But under the pressures of riding in the streets, the soles soon turned out to break along the ball of the outsole. This problem was fixed by adding horizon- tal lines in the pattern together with the trademark waffle pattern that helps distribute shock evenly. Even though skaters started wearing Vans early on – mostly because of their functionality, durability and affordable price – it took the company until 1976 to fully realize their standing in the skate community. Starting that year, Vans not only started running ads in skateboard magazines and sponsoring riders, but also began making their shoes more skate-specific with models like the #36 “Jazz” model, as well as the “Off the Wall” and high top models. New features included a padded collar below the ankle – where earlier models only had single stitch- ing – as well as reinforced heel and toe sections. The new generation of Vans also featured the signature stripe on the side. “I think my dad basically came up with that stripe doodling in his office,” Paul Van Doren’s son Steve says re- membering the genesis of the emblematic ornament. Over the next few years, Vans became THE iconic skate shoes worn by pioneers like Tony Alva, Stacy Peralta and Jerry Valdez. 33