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How Vans tapped Southern California skate culture and became a billion-dollar shoe brand

How Vans tapped Southern California skate culture and became a billion-dollar shoe brand

When the Van Doren Rubber Co. threw open its retail doors at 704 E. Broadway in Anaheim on March 16, 1966, the business was so new many of the boxes on the shelves didn't even have shoes in them. But there were samples to try on. Somewhere between 12 and 16 customers (accounts vary) placed orders for the company's rubber-soled canvas deck shoes that had to be manufactured on the premises overnight and picked up the next day.

Faded color photographs of that first factory show an unassuming building painted warehouse white, with a storefront almost willed into existence through a few hundred square feet of brick and stone. A wood-paneled station wagon parked out front seems to take up...

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