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Gone Fishin’

Gary Weiner, former owner of Saxon Shoes, looks with 360-degree clarity upon a well-earned retirement.

Gary Weiner, former owner of Saxon ShoesDear Gary…What an interesting idea: What would I tell my younger self, and which era would I choose? Elementary school, high school, college, work, parenthood…hmmm.

The more I think about it, the more I realize that writing a note to my younger self, at any stage, isn’t something I’d do. Why give a heads-up on the incredible journey that awaits me? Why ruin the surprises, good fortune, challenges, and triumphs that I’ll experience in every stage of my life? Maybe the mistakes and pitfalls that I’ve lived through were meant to be overcome so I could learn from them and improve as a person. Scar tissue is like body armor. It toughens you up for the rough and unpredictable road of life.

So how about a little spin on this worthy exercise? I’ll write A Note to My Current Self because I’ve loved every stage of my life, and that includes every mistake I’ve made along the way. For the record, there has been no shortage of self-inflicted wounds. Take the time I got a speeding ticket driving to Fort Lauderdale in 1977. Why did I laugh when the policeman suggested he’d take me to jail at 3 a.m.? Why? Or how about the time in 2012 when I took it upon myself to run in pumps as part of the first-ever Saxon Shoes High Heel Dash. The 50-yard race was held to raise funds for a great cause—the Susan G. Komen Foundation—but hindsight would have told me it wasn’t the smartest idea for my ankles, knees, back, etc. Still, the local NBC affiliate was on hand and hundreds of people came out to cheer on the many other brave/crazy souls. Sometimes you have to suffer for your business—and to help those in need.

Every day in retail is about overcoming challenges. Of course, some hurdles are bigger and longer lasting than others. Case in point: In 2001 our beloved location, in the Ridge Shopping Center, burned to the ground! We were closed for nine months. But in true Weiner family spirit, we rebuilt. Then, in 2005, we moved to a 26,000-foot-space in the Short Pump Town Mall, becoming one of the biggest independently owned shoe stores in the country. It was a huge leap, but our team rose to the occasion. We became a destination store, drawing customers from hours away to shop our extensive selection of shoes and accessories, as well as our renowned children’s department.

I’ve never been one to think or act small, so I definitely took risks. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? I loved my foray into online retailing, creating Shoedini.com in 1999 at our kitchen table. (Shoedini is now called 6pm.com.) Like any retailer worth his or her salt, I never stood still. I’ve been in an endless foot race, just not generally while wearing high heels. Willingness to try this and test that kept my family business alive, along with an incredible staff of loyal employees—thousands of them over my 40-plus-year career. Saxon Shoes would’ve been nothing without them.

I’m proud to say our business survived the Great Recession, the Retail Apocalypse, and the pandemic, among countless other challenges. Covid dealt us a near-knockout blow; we were forced to file for bankruptcy protection in August of 2020. Immediately following the filing, we focused on our top priority: keeping everyone employed. In true Weiner family spirit, we emerged from bankruptcy about a year later fully staffed. We got our legs back underneath us. I’m forever grateful to the many vendors who worked with us and the customers who stood by us during this difficult period.

I was approached a few times about selling the business, but the time never felt right—until it did! After a lengthy courtship, Garrett Breton of Comfort One Shoes made an offer in late 2023 that I couldn’t refuse. I know our business is in great hands; it’s Saxon Shoes on steroids. And my daughter, Amanda, is now the Director of Saxon Shoes. Our great retailing family marches on. I couldn’t be prouder.

Looking back on a career well-lived, I realize no one ever needed to tell me, at any age, to be respectful or compassionate, to work hard, to never give up, or to try and do the right thing. My parents instilled those values in me. They’re bookmarked in my brain. And no matter what anyone might think, I was always listening.

If I could, I’d write to my parents. Instead, I have conversations with them in my head, and quite often. For the sake of this exercise, I’d remind myself at any earlier age of how grateful and lucky I’ll be the next day, month, year, etc. because every day is a blessing. My wife and kids are incredible. Bonus: My grandkids are all nearby! I also have many great friends, and I’d remind myself to check on their well-being. Spend time together. Don’t worry about telling the same stories for the 47th time. Family and friends mean the world to me.

Though older, I’m not “old.” I’m embracing retirement with the same gusto I did running a shoe store. There are countless experiences—like learning to play harmonica, pickleball, and perhaps juggling—to add to my full life. There are so many incredible places to see and amazing people to meet, albeit at a more leisurely pace. I’ve learned to take my foot off the gas and enjoy the ride more often. That’s good advice for any age.

Finally, I’d tell my younger self at every stage to exercise, eat healthy, and not to lose a fish because I didn’t tie a good knot. On that note, I’d sure like to know where the fish are biting! I’d definitely give my younger self a heads-up on that!

The March 2024 Issue

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