Coffee with Guppy: Seattle’s Sole Sister, Nealy Blau

A chat with the owner of A Mano shoe and accessories boutique.
| FROM THE PRINT EDITION |
 
 
 
Nealy Blau owns A Mano, a shoe and fashion accessories boutique in downtown Seattle (shopamano.com). Blau is also a photographer who shows with G. Gibson Gallery in Lower Queen Anne. Nancy Guppy shops, often out of her tax bracket, at both A Mano and G. Gibson. 
 
Nancy: Does your background as an artist influence your approach to running a small business? 
Nealy: I certainly have strong opinions about color and form and I bring that to the store, plus I think owning a business is a common path for artists. We tend to need to do things our way. 
 
What do you enjoy about owning a small business?
I love having a physical space on First Avenue with the door open. I never know who’s going to come in. 
 
Are well-made shoes a wise investment? 
Once I get someone into their first pair of A Mano shoes, they never go back. Living it is believing it, and you can’t convince someone until they experience it for themselves. 
 
Is it true that shoes make the woman? 
I think so. When you’re wearing shoes that make you feel powerful — for women, it’s often boots — you’re transformed, you’re grounded and you just kick ass. 
 
Choosing inventory is a risk because you’re guessing what customers are going to like. How do you decide? 
I get feedback from what I bought the previous year, and sometimes I’ll think about specific customers, but I always start with my immediate personal reaction: “What would I want to wear?”
 
Do you get nervous on shoe-buying trips that your decisions will be wrong?
Oh, yeah. What most people don’t realize is that everything is custom made for the store. I pick each shoe and then I have to pick the leather — both the color and the texture — for each shoe. I overthink sometimes. 
 
Is there a particular style of shoe that your customers are attracted to every season?
Yes, and it’s a shoe — often a boot — with a certain attitude. 
 
Nealy Blau's secret for long-lasting shoes: "a sewn sole and high-quality leather."
 
If you had to choose between nice shoes and a nice meal, what would win out?  
That’s the hardest question for me because I completely eat out of my tax bracket! I’m going to say a nice meal. Living in the present, being with good people, eating good food — what could be better?
 
What’s the main driver in your life?  
Aesthetics. Coming from a visual arts background and living in a beautiful place like Seattle, I’m always going to seek beauty. 
 
Studies show that $75,000 a year is the monetary baseline for a happy life and anything above that amount doesn’t increase happiness. Do you agree?
I do agree. I find that no matter how much I make, I spend, and when times are tight, I don’t feel deprived. More is not better. 
 
What piece of advice would you give to a younger person who is just starting out? 
Apprenticeships. If someone is doing work that interests you, try to be his or her assistant or apprentice. Nothing beats experience. 
 
What has been your scariest creative moment? 
Not scary as much as doubt. I used to question myself and then I’d just stop and lose all my juice. The key is to plow on and not judge the work. 
 
What gives you joy? 
The physical beauty of this world. 
 
What is your best quality? 
My enjoyment of other people. 
 
What law or rule would you most like to enforce?
In the store, “Cellphone talking is not appreciated.” 
 
Who’s the coolest famous person to come into your store? 
Willem Dafoe. He was wearing beautiful, buttery, almost fussy Italian driving shoes and he was as handsome and virile as you would expect. And kind of short. 
 
› For more on the lives of artists, entertainers and entrepreneurs, tune in Art Zone with Nancy Guppy on the Seattle Channel (seattlechannel.org/artzone).
 

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