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La Epoca, Miami's Most Historic Department Store

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Welcome to Cult Classics, where our resident Miami expert Patricia Guarch Wise delves into Miami's oh-so-fashionable history. Take out your notebooks, ladies and gents, because you're about to be schooled, Miami style.

Image Via Raquel Zaldivar

We have 129 years of history, across two countries and three generations to cover, so let's get started.

La Epoca is one hundred twenty nine years old. My not-so-scientific estimate is that La Epoca is the oldest store in Miami. If you know otherwise, please, tip us off in the comments.

I got in touch with Randy Alonso at La Epoca, who invited me to come check it out and learn a bit about its history. He told me that this was his family business and that he and his brother are the third generation in the family to run the store. A few emails later, I walk into the towering multi-story retail space and am met by a young, blonde-haired, blue-eyed, well-dressed, bearded man who introduced himself as Randy. I blurt out that I expected an old man to meet me and we're off to a good, albeit awkward, start.

La Epoca is a multi-brand department store and, to be honest, it's cleaner, trendier and generally nicer than I expect it to be. The tri-level space is open in the center and has a dramatic cascade of white orbs hanging from the ceiling.

You can't blame me for being quick to judge. Miami has loads of popular shopping neighborhoods. Downtown is one of them, for a certain set of people. This set is namely tourists, looking to stock up on electronics and luggage that may or may not last you longer than it takes you to get back to MIA.

The space is modern yet charmingly decorated, with vintage furniture vignettes styled with books on Cuban history and time management skills. There's a corner in the athletic wear area with where a lamp lives that would look just as at home in any old-school abuelita's house. An antique television serves as a shelf for some leather, studded purses and behind the women's contemporary, where jeans by Diesel and t-shirts with selvedge edges by Maison Scotch are displayed next to corsets with rhinestones and floral bustiers, are giant black and white images of Randy's grandparents' wedding in Cuba.

Randy gives me the not-so-quick run down: La Epoca began as a fabric store in Havana and was one of the most popular stores in pre-Castro Cuba. They moved to America for all the same reasons we Miamians know so well. The family started the business fresh again and opened up shop in the Dupont Building, where they were until 2005 when they took over a corner building that was formerly a Walgreens with a 60 seat soda fountain.

When you're talking to Randy, you get the feeling that he's a trendy guy who has his finger on the pulse of fashion, a local who understands Miami. He tells me about plans to open a new denim store around the corner featuring denim from Japan with a "closet feel."

La Epoca, he explains, is tailored to a specific customer – tourists, mostly European and South American. The store is a microcosm for Miami's tourism industry, it's a look at the tried and true brands that visitors are looking for in Miami – ahem, Seven Jeans. For all the history in La Epoca's story, it's the story of Miami today that La Epoca best tells.
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