by stephanie dunn | January 15, 2015 | People
As Randy and Brian Alonso launch their denim concept on Flagler Street, they carry three generations of their family’s heritage from Havana to a now-burgeoning downtown Miami.
Randy (left) and Brian Alonso at Lost Boy Dry Goods in downtown Miami.
In 1927, on the bustling, cobbled streets of downtown Havana, Cuba, brothers Diego and Angel Alonso made a decision that would eventually change the face of downtown Miami when they purchased a fabric store named La Época. They had emigrated from Spain and were eager to build a new life in the steamy capital. Before long, the two brothers transitioned the shop to producing ready-to-wear, and La Época quickly grew into a veritable fashion force on the island. By the 1950s, their staff, originally a lean team of about six, had grown to more than 400, and La Época, now the second-largest department store in the country, was the trendiest shopping destination in all of Cuba. Times were good and business was booming until, in 1959, Fidel Castro came into power. A year later, La Época was forcibly confiscated by the government.
Cut to 2015. Brian and Randy Alonso, the great-grandsons of the aforementioned Diego, have launched Lost Boy Dry Goods, a denim-centric clothing boutique inside Miami’s historic Alfred I. duPont building. Walking into the shop, which opened last August, is a bit like taking a trip in a time machine through American culture. First, there’s the Colorado lodge-inspired décor—a rustic combination of Native American rugs, worn leather chairs, and nostalgic accents like rotary phones, phonographs, and even an authentic mining cage. Then, you have the store’s focus on blue jeans, the garment that might be more American than even apple pie. It’s a venture from a family whose roots in the retail business go back three generations, through political revolution, struggle, and, ultimately, success.
Brian, the elder of the Alonso brothers, explains what happened back in Cuba. “Castro’s army came in with guns pointed at my great-uncle, Angel, and said, ‘Sign these papers. This store belongs to the people now.’ After he signed, they even took his pen. They said that belonged to the people, too.” The Alonso family fled to Miami, intending to return to Cuba once the political chaos subsided. Randy, five years Brian’s junior, adds, “A few years later, they realized that day would never come. So in 1965, my family set out to re-create La Época in this very building.”
Miami’s La Época today.
Diego leased space in the Alfred I. duPont location on Flagler Street, Miami’s original “main street,” ready to rebuild his empire with the help of his sons, Pepe and Tony (Brian and Randy’s father). Over the decades, La Época would see several reincarnations: In the ’60s, the store sprawled over the ground floor of the building, which featured an upscale women’s boutique and electronics shop. In the ’70s, the store boasted luxury brands like Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, and Chanel. In the early ’90s, after Hurricane Andrew ravaged South Florida, the store would shift to offer more economically priced brands, aiming to counter the decline in its tourist customer base as Miami residents—their homes destroyed—were forced to live in the area’s hotels. Most recently, in 2005, La Época moved into the nearby historic Walgreens building, the six-floor Art Deco landmark built by architecture firm Zimmerman, Saxe, and McBride, where the store stands to this day, selling men’s, women’s, and children’s apparel with a range of brands, including Lacoste, Ralph Lauren, Hugo Boss, Nike, Puma, and Levi’s.
That’s where Brian and Randy enter the story, navigating a new trail with Lost Boy Dry Goods, located just steps away from La Época. “We call ourselves a denim store, but we’re more than that,” Randy says. “We sell footwear, sportswear, swimwear, accessories, records, Herschel backpacks, even old phones and vinyl wallets. There’s even hot sauce in the back.”
Inspired by the winters and summers the Alonso brothers spent as kids in Colorado, Lost Boy is named after the trail in Vail where the boys learned how to ski, and many of the store’s elements—down to its hot sauce selection—continue to embody those traditions. “There was a store where we’d buy candy, and they always had hot sauce in the back that we could taste with pretzels,” Randy says. “So at our store, we feature hot sauces. But not just any hot sauce you can grab at Publix—really unique hot sauces from places like Key West and Tennessee.”
A customer, two store managers, and Tony and Diego Alonso inside La Época, at one of the store’s cash registers, circa 1980.
The brothers’ rustic inspiration is woven throughout all 2,600 square feet of the two-story space. Randy himself designed the store, putting his Duke University degree in civil engineering to use by rendering the shop with 3-D model programs. The brothers then personally sourced the interiors, commissioning paintings of old presidents (a fascination of Randy’s), and scoring thrift shop finds throughout South Florida. On the building’s original brick walls are deer antlers from Texas, custom library shelves, and a rolling ladder. Reclaimed wood from Tennessee barns serves as dressing room doors, and an old baby grand piano functions as a workbench where the brothers often whip out raw cotton and books on the cotton gin to educate customers about the denim-making process. The result is a warmly weathered décor that tells the history of denim in America.
“Trend-wise, we’re not trying to chase anything,” Randy says. “We’re aiming to create an experience as timeless as denim itself. You could go through any American revolution in the last couple of hundred years—whether it be sexual, political, or industrial—and, somehow, denim will be involved—like empowering women in World War II who were working in factories, while women in Europe were still [practically] wearing ‘Victorian’ clothing. Then came a completely different revolution 20 years later, with women starting to wear pants in the ’60s. And this is a garment that started out as a breathable, durable fabric to protect the bodies of men working in the mines.”
While Brian oversees operations and finance, Randy handles merchandising and buying. By stocking more than 20 brands, ranging from higher-end Levi’s Made & Crafted, Diesel, and Prps to the more accessible Guess, Bellfield, and Scotch & Soda, the brothers aim to have every shopper find the perfect pair.
Although Colorado inspired the look of Lost Boy, its soul is rooted firmly in the streets of Miami. Over the nearly five decades the Alonsos have been here, downtown Miami has certainly seen its ups and downs. In 2011, Brian and Randy’s father, Tony, began the Flagler Street Task Force, a group devoted to the revitalization of Flagler Street through the Miami Downtown Development Authority, and brought in as a consultant Tony Goldman, the man behind much of Wynwood, for his expertise in building neighborhoods. When, two years ago, both Tony Alonso and Tony Goldman passed away within a month of each other, Brian stepped in as cochair to continue the revitalization process his father started.
Currently, Brian is a board member of the Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust and president of Dade Heritage Trust, while Randy is a board member and secretary of the Downtown Miami Partnership. To them, the involvement is about the city as a whole. “Whenever a friend comes to visit, we go above and beyond to show them that Miami isn’t just South Beach,” Randy says. “Between the explosion of the art district and all of the restorations of the old MiMo hotels, I imagine the excitement is similar to that of the Beach in the late ’80s, when the fashion industry was coming in. And it’s fantastic that, with all Miami’s developments, people are preserving the city’s history along the way.”
Randy and Brian Alonso’s Lost Boy Dry Goods takes inspiration from their family’s three generations in retail as well as their own childhood experiences, which is shown in both their store’s décor and unique items.
As for their efforts to make downtown more vibrant and relevant, things are coming together. “Over the summer, we secured the final portion of $13 million to redo the street,” Brian says. As part of the initiative, Flagler’s on-street parking will be removed to make the sidewalks twice as wide, improving the pedestrian experience and making room for cafés where the community can gather. Rows of oaks will create a shady canopy, and each intersection will have a railroad crossing that can go up and down as needed to close the street for events like farmers markets and concerts.
“It’s a whole engineering process that will go from Biscayne Boulevard to the Miami-Dade County Courthouse,” Brian says. “Even the sidewalks will pay homage to the city’s origins, with an alternating black-and-white pattern inspired by Henry Flagler’s railroad. It’s incredibly exciting for the area, and we plan to put a shovel in the ground at the beginning of the year.”
Adds Randy, “We’re a young city, but we have a lot of depth to us. There are so many gems, especially downtown, that are underappreciated. With Lost Boy Dry Goods and our involvement in the area, we’re really trying to inspire people to shop local and grow the appreciation of Miami’s history.”
For now, it seems, the arrival of Lost Boy Dry Goods is the beginning of yet another chapter in the story of the Alonsos, and one that future generations will look back on as part of a rich and overarching narrative of both a family and Miami. 157 E. Flagler St., Miami, 305-372-7303
photography by Vanessa rogers