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Ex-toy store owners buy LJ Shoe Gallery

Maybe you’ve noticed a new, bright blue awning on Girard Avenue that reads “La Jolla Shoe Gallery.” It pops out of the store’s fresh white façade.

Or, perhaps the placard on the sidewalk announcing a sale in colorful chalk letters has caught your eye.

The Shoe Gallery has new owners, and they’ve been changing things around.

Started by Jake and Beverly Nelson in the early ‘90s, the store was purchased by the Balachandra family in September. The Balachandras, who emigrated from India in 1973, operated two toy stores in the Boston area before moving out West.

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They then started the Toygarden in Encinitas. Now, Sharada and Ramaiya Balachandra are the new owners of La Jolla Shoe Gallery, along with their son Chetan.

Chetan says the retail basics are the same between running a toy store and a shoe store, “but behind the scenes some things are different.”

La Jolla Shoe Gallery sells comfort shoes, so the Balachandras have had to learn which brands of shoes might help with fallen arches, for example. But they’ve also pulled from ideas that made their toy stores so successful and used those to rejuvenate the Shoe Gallery.

“They brought in a lot of gift items,” says Ester Noble, who started working for the store under its previous owners in 1994.

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“There was also a column when you walked in the door, and they removed that, which made the store more open,” she says.

Customers seem to notice those same things. They say the Shoe Gallery feels roomy and now has more accessories, like hats, purses, candles, and even wind chimes.

The Balachandras have also expanded their selection of men’s shoes, with such brands as Merrell and Sebago. And they say they will soon be adding athletic shoes, which nobody carries in the Village.

“We’re hoping to turn this store into a place where locals come to get their footwear,” says Chetan.

To that end, prices have been lowered.

“We’re making a point to keep the [manufacturer’s] suggested prices so customers can go online or to the mall and see the same price,” says Chetan.

Under the store’s awning, and beside the placard, you might also meet another member of the Balachandra family - Chetan’s dog, Jack. The Jack Russell mix likes to greet people on the sidewalk, doing his part to bring new attention to the store.

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“People pet him,” says Chetan. “And then come in and ask, ‘How long has this store been here?’”