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Best foot forward

John Ingram has built a lifelong love of shoes into a thriving downtown shop

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Photo: Tammy Fancy

Photo: Tammy Fancy

When you have 12,000 to 14,000 pairs of women’s shoes in stock, you can be confident your customers will find what they want. “I have all the product under one umbrella,” says John Ingram, owner of John David Shoes in the Park Lane Mall. “If you don’t find it here, you won’t find it anywhere in Atlantic Canada.”

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Photo: Tammy Fancy

For the dedicated shoe lover, John David Shoes is a jewel. The stock comes from the most venerable and sought-after designers in the world: Un Tour En Ville, Rieker, Vanelli, France-Mode, Miz Mooz, Bussola, Michael Kors and more. John David also has a private label collection of his own, created by a Toronto designer. “I am mesmerized by the shoe business,” he says. “I always have been.”

Shoes and boots sit on tiered shelves and on tables, in an extraordinary array of colour and design. Each cluster represents a designer. Buckles, bows, straps, laces, zippers, glittering metallics, Victorian button embellishments and modern, gleaming metal toes and heels: the footwear is stunning, even narrative. “We like to create stories in our displays,” says assistant manager Michael Goodwin-Kelley, who has been on staff for nine years. No interpretation is necessary. The stories speak of gala evenings, or travelling in style, or walking in well-heeled comfort.

For all the collections, the run sizes (same shoe style in different sizes) are small. Typically, this would be 12 or so pairs from size six to 10, which make the shoes exclusive enough to be almost one-of-a-kind.

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Photo: Tammy Fancy

There are other unique features to Ingram’s shoe business. “I like to put flair into the brand,” he says. “We have two or three brands we have some leeway with. This means we can custom-order the shoes.” For example, the Peter Kaiser brand, from Germany, produces elegant high heels in glossy patent leather, often in single colours such as black, navy and red. “The difference is, I build the shoes,” he says. “So they’re not just tan, they may be tan with a chocolate brown strap, and matching heel.” He chooses the colours, and varies the materials (i.e. suede and leather). The store also runs a substantial cross-country mail-order business.

John Ingram was 15 when he fell in love with the shoe business. “I started working at Kinney Shoes in the West End Mall,” says Ingram. “I started in the stock room, then went into sales on the floor.” By 22, he had moved to Moncton and become Kinney’s manager trainer for Eastern Canada. He opened John David Shoes in 1989, at age 26.

Ingram’s client base ranges from 18 to 90, with a core group in their middle years. “The woman who shops at John David has been shopping here for 25 years,” he says. “They are very loyal.”

It’s not only Ingram’s customers who are loyal. “I’ve had the same staff since forever,” he says. “I’ve known Jill Hackett, my manager, for 32 years.” Hackett has been the store manager for 25 years. Two other full-time staff have worked for Ingram for five years.

“This is a very physical job,” says Hackett, referring to lifting down heavy boxes from the stacks, and the constant circles between the stock room and the sales floor. But she, too, wouldn’t work at anything else. “I’ve loved shoes since Grade 1.”

Like Ingram, Hackett has worked for chain shoe stores. “There’s more freedom working for an independent,” she says. “John also appreciates our input, ideas and experience. If I want change, I go directly to the boss. There’s no long wait to talk to someone at head office. John is head office, and he’s here every day.”

This past summer John David Shoes celebrated its 25th anniversary in business. At 10 o’clock that morning, the power went out in the mall. “The store was packed to suffocation,” laughs Ingram. “We lit a blaze of candles all over the store, had champagne, hors d’oeuvres and desserts. We had a party like none other!”

Ross McNeil, owner of Duggar’s Men’s Wear, just down the street, has known Ingram for many years. “He’s a great fellow and retailer,” says McNeil. “He tries to bring the rest of the world here to Spring Garden Road for women’s shoes. He’s the true spirit of the entrepreneur in a shopkeeper and he’s passionate about the business.”

For Ingram, each day is as fresh as the first one at Kinney’s Shoes, at age 15. “I still like getting up in the morning and going to work to a job I really love,” he says. “I love it because of the challenge it creates for me every day.”

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