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Victoria shoe store owners getting creative to survive pandemic

Store owners of Heart and Sole Shoes in Victoria thought they'd be selling soon not searching out new ways of doing business. (Courtesy: Heart and Sole Shoes, Google Maps)

Victoria store owners are starting a new way of business as they face the COVID-19 crisis

The Heart and Sole Shoe store owners thought they'd soon be selling and retiring but instead getting creative

VICTORIA (NEWS 1130) — As B.C. businesses are being told to come up with a way to open safely as B.C. eases COVID-19 restrictions, a couple Victoria shoe store owners are near the end of their careers but finding a way to be ahead of the curve.

For Heart and Sole Shoe store owner, Keith Gage-Cole, it’s not business as usual. For the first time his he is welcoming shoppers solo and by appointment only. This, along with relying on online sales, is the start of a new normal as he strives to keep his business from going under.

“It’s starting to get better now. Well, I mean, not compared to being open. But I have people phoning – like, I just had a gentleman come in now looking for something for his heels – that’s what I mean. I need people to come in,” Gage-Cole says.

At the beginning of COVID-19 restrictions, Gage-Cole says he was bringing in about 10 per cent of pre-pandemic sales now he says some days he can edge past 25 per cent.

It was 1969 he says when he opened his first store with Glen Lynch who is also getting creative to keep his store Baggins above water. This includes coming out from behind the desk to behind the wheel, bringing Converse and Vans to doorsteps around Victoria.

“I’ve gone from semi-retirement to delivery boy So every morning I get up and I deliver about 10- 20 packages and my junior partner does about the same amount,” Lynch says.

While online sales made up a lot of Baggins’ pre-pandemic income – his store’s claim to fame is one the largest selections of Converse and Vans there is – Lynch says custom orders for corporate customers were also a big factor – something missing now.

“We do custom printing as well but that’s more of a corporate thing. We can get orders up to 2500 pairs but we do single pairs as well. We have a couple orders ready for the corporations but there not open so we can’t even send them, he says.

Both men thought they would be selling their businesses soon and enjoying retirement but instead are looking at reinventing the businesses they’ve spent decades building.

They’ve paid their rents in April, now bills and inventory are piling-up, while sales are a fraction of what they were – but still neither are giving up in the face of the challenges this virus is bringing.

Gage-Cole is looking for the bright side.

“We thought one door closes, but it doesn’t mean it’s all over we have to look the door that’s opening,” he tells NEWS 1130.