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My Morning Mecca

It started in the fall of 2020. While working remotely in my Upper West Side apartment, I took a browsing break one afternoon and stumbled upon an article about ways to stay fit during a pandemic. One of the avoid-the-gym tips was to do push-ups. They burn calories, protect the shoulders and lower back from injuries, improve balance and posture, and enhance performance in athletic activities. They can also be done in a living room, no instructors or $1,000-plus Peloton bikes required. Intrigued and curious about just how many I could do, I knelt onto my carpet and began. One, two…holy $#!*, that was hard!

Suffice to say, I didn’t even crack 10 push-ups that day. Worse, a drill sergeant would have said few, if any, were Marine caliber. In my defense, I had broken my collarbone a year earlier and my weight-training exercises had ceased that April when my gym shut down. The truth: I was humbled—and weak. I vowed, while gasping for breath on my carpet, to push forward. Every morning since, I have knelt on carpets in my apartment, at my in-laws’ condo, in hotels, wherever I might be, to do my push-ups. I have increased the amount considerably (Yay, me!) and have, since Jan. 1, 2022, settled on a number broken out over five sets. It’s no longer about increasing the daily total. My early-morning routine is not even about the physical benefits of push-ups (though they are real). It’s more about a commitment to start each day by facing a challenge and reaching a goal. (Unexpected perk: It’s also bonding time with my cat, Romeo, who has taken it upon himself to do carpet-tugging exercises alongside me without fail.)

My Morning Mecca, as I’ve come to call it, helps me face a world rife with strife and calamities. Every day, it seems, something next-level awful happens. Putin’s slaughter of innocent Ukrainians, a deadly earthquake somewhere, mass shootings across the U.S., etc., etc. It’s soul-draining. Hiding under the covers seems like a safer alternative. But that’s no way to live. The very least I can do is start my day by getting through these push-ups. It gets my heart pumping. And it puts in perspective the far greater challenges so many others have to overcome each day just to survive. These push-ups are nothing in comparison.

Survival in our industry continues to be a daily struggle, as well. The hits keep coming. Now record inflation is delivering body blows, compounding an ongoing flurry of supply-chain jabs and the threat of a knockout punch from a virus that’s one mutation away from wreaking worldwide havoc again. Forgive anyone who feels punch drunk. Not knowing where to turn or what to expect is dizzying, and a breather seems unlikely. We’ve been pushed up against the ropes. Now we’re just trying to hang on.

But hope is not lost. Our industry has an ace up its sleeve. We can always play the “world’s not going barefoot” card. The U.S. generated a record $100 billion-plus in footwear sales last year, and while that figure might dip this year, sales won’t disappear. Also encouraging: A recent back-to-school survey predicts consumer spending will jump 5.8 percent to a record $34.4 billion. In-store shopping is expected to account for more than half. Loads of opportunities exist. Big ducks are still on the pond.

It’s why Joe and Daniel Safdeye, managers of SCL Footwear and subjects of our Q&A (p. 10), are bullish about growth potential this year and beyond. The Safdeyes have doubled the size of their 15-year-old company over the past two years. The fourth-generation shoe industry brothers believe the recent market disruption created a window of opportunity never seen before in their decades working in this business. Where there was once little room for smaller companies to grab a sliver of shelf space, the door has burst open. The Safdeyes are seizing the day. They are pushing forward with brand extensions and new launches aimed at the entry-level, comfort lifestyle market. Their spirited optimism and Brooklyn-brusque determination is inspiring.

Equally uplifting is our story (p. 16) about John Daher, owner of the recently opened Shoebox and Co. in Kennebunk, ME. Daher, who spent the past 25 years or so as the product guru at Clarks Companies N.A. followed by stints at Cobb Hill, Drydock Footwear and Rockport, has returned to his retailer roots with a curated “art gallery” concept located in a picturesque resort town. Once the purveyor of a successful namesake five-store, sit-and-fit chain in Massachusetts, Daher is reembracing his love of being a shoe retailer. Daher doesn’t need to do this. He wants to do it. It’s on his terms, which center on an eclectic array of 30 or so comfort brands. But rather than go with top-sellers found in many outlets, Daher is relying on his experienced eye for product to unearth hidden gems in those collections.

So far, Shoebox and Co. is rocking. In fact, Daher has plans to expand the concept to other resort areas. One of his goals is to mentor young talent, guiding newcomers into what he believes can be long and prosperous shoe industry careers. Now that’s something we should all push hard for!

The April/May 2024 Issue

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