Hashem’s Va­ri­ety

THE COR­NER STORE THAT CHANGED RUN­NING IN AN EN­TIRE PROV­INCE

Canadian Running - - FEATURES - By Alex Cyr

Salam Hashem has been op­er­at­ing a small va­ri­ety store in Char­lot­te­town, p.e.i., for over 50 years. Hashem’s Va­ri­ety is like any other mod­est shop in Canada; there’s fresh pro­duce, loaves of bread, snack food and milk in the fridge. But in the back of the store there is some­thing spe­cial: dozens of boxes of Asics run­ning shoes. Hashem’s Va­ri­ety isn’t just a va­ri­ety store – it’s a part of the run­ning lifeblood for an en­tire prov­ince. Alex Cyr goes to the back of the Hashem’s Va­ri­ety to find out why Mr. Hashem has been sell­ing run­ning shoes at a deep dis­count for decades.

Be­fore Stan­ley Chais­son be­came a three-time p.e.i. Marathon cham­pion and the prov­ince’s record holder in run­ning’s most iconic dis­tance, he was a kid with a run­ning habit, pound­ing through sneak­ers at an ex­pen­sive rate. Grow­ing up in the 1990s near Char­lot­te­town, he re­lied on lo­cal tra­di­tional run­ning stores to stock up on shoes, and to pay a lot for a pair of train­ers was com­mon­place. So, when his par­ents heard word of an un­con­ven­tional dealer sell­ing Asics mer­chan­dise at a dis­count price down­town, they ven­tured over to see if they could save the fam­ily some cash. With Stan­ley in the back­seat, they fol­lowed di­rec­tions to a makeshift, white-pan­elled minia­ture ware­house on the cor­ner of Fitzroy and Cum­ber­land Street and dou­ble-checked to make sure they had read the ad­dress right. Con­fused, they made their way to the en­trance.

“I fol­lowed my par­ents in­side this lit­tle cor­ner store,” re­mem­bers the now 35-year-old Chais­son, “and was look­ing for the shoes. Usu­ally, tra­di­tional run­ning re­tail­ers make them vis­i­ble and dis­play them on the walls.” This was no tra­di­tional run­ning re­tailer. The young Chais­son had to nav­i­gate through a sea of fresh pro­duce, a large bin of rag-tag socks, a gen­er­ous dis­play of chew­ing gum and cig­a­rettes and a dusty ice cream freezer be­fore com­ing face-to-face with a sin­gu­lar black bench sur­rounded by shelves of blue and grey closed boxes. A slen­der man with thin hair and a per­ma­nent smile stretch­ing his rugged skin stood by the shelves. Upon see­ing the young boy, he con­fi­dently stated, “I find the shoe for you, my friend,” be­fore mak­ing a pur­pose­ful bee­line to­ward the back cor­ner of his em­po­rium. Lit­tle did Chais­son know that he would hear that ex­act phrase count­less times over the next two decades.

Salam Hashem, the lone worker in the shop, scanned the blue and

WE WOULD MEET FOR A RUN EV­ERY SUN­DAY MORN­ING, AND WHEN IT WAS STORM­ING, THE GROUP WAS THE BIG­GEST BE­CAUSE WE DI D NOT WANT TO DITCH EACH OTHER.

grey boxes and fi­nally set­tled for one amid the jun­gle of card­board. “This, my friend” he told his client, “is your shoe.” Peer­ing at a few news­pa­per cut-outs de­pict­ing Hashem win­ning var­i­ous road races, Chais­son quickly laced up the shoes, and, to his par­ents’ de­light, bought them at a heav­ily dis­counted price. He was given a com­pli­men­tary pair of socks with his pur­chase, and had he asked for a pack of gum and some ba­nanas along with the footwear, he prob­a­bly would have struck an even bet­ter deal.

Twenty-two years later, Hashem’s Va­ri­ety is still a main­stay mar­ket on p.e.i. Word of mouth and bar­gain pric­ing are pop­u­lar sales tools in a small prov­ince, which is made ev­i­dent by the in­creas­ing ubiq­uity of the Asics logo on run­ning feet across the Is­land since the store’s open­ing in 1965. Back then, Hashem had no in­ten­tion of be­com­ing the prov­ince’s (and per­haps the Mar­itimes’) most re­li­able yet un­usual run­ning shoe sales­man; he sim­ply wanted to help out a few friends.

“I al­ways loved to run,” re­calls Hashem, “ev­ery­thing from the 100m to the marathon, so when I came to p.e.i. in the 1960s, I made some friends through run­ning. We would meet for a run ev­ery Sun­day morn­ing, and when it was storm­ing, the group was the big­gest be­cause we did not want to ditch each other.” One day, a mem­ber of the run­ning group com­plained about the steep price of shoes. Hashem, still with­out a pro­fes­sion, did what he could to help. “I had a friend who worked at a shoe com­pany,” he re­calls, “and so I asked him if I could buy a few pairs from him at pro­duc­tion cost. When I told my friends, many of them wanted me to buy for them, so I bought 10 pairs and dis­trib­uted them for slightly more than that price.”

Things snow­balled f rom there. Lo­cal run­ners were hear­ing of Hashem’s in with Asics, and i n no time, he was so­licited around the clock. Be­cause he was rapidly sell­ing each pair of Nim­bus, Cu­mu­lus and Kayanos they sent him, Asics made sure he never lacked mer­chan­dise to move. Half a cen­tury later, he still or­ders di­rectly from the com­pany. “It was more com­mon to have these types of cor­ner stores back then,” says Hashem of his un­con­ven­tional setup. “I’m for­tu­nate to still be go­ing. There is noth­ing I love to do more than run­ning, so I am happy when I can make it eas­ier for a run­ner to af­ford to do what they like to do.”

Run­ning can be­come an ex­pen­sive pas­time, es­pe­cially if you are Fran­cis Fa­gan. The sex­a­ge­nar­ian and long-time road racer’s life­time mileage ex­ceeds 80,000 kilo­me­tres – all of which he ran in lo­cally pur­chased Asics Kayanos. Over the years, Fa­gan has made reg­u­lar vis­its to Hashem’s store to sup­port his heavy run­ning habit and also to keep in touch

with a friend. “Salam is a great per­son,” says Fa­gan. “He is al­ways will­ing to of­fer great ad­vice on run­ning to any­body who re­quests it, and is also will­ing to lis­ten. I have run over 120 marathons, all in Asics from Hashem’s Va­ri­ety.”

Va­ri­ety is the best word to de­scribe the unique shop’s se­lec­tion. As was Chais­son in his first visit, new pa­trons are of­ten mys­ti­fied by Hashem’s lay­out of mer­chan­dise. Any­time Hashem no­tices a need for goods in the com­mu­nity – re­gard­less of whether the good is par­tic­u­larly prof­itable – he makes an ef­fort to make it avail­able, which ex­plains the fresh trays of fruit at the store’s en­trance, as well as the odd stock of cig­a­rettes starkly jux­ta­posed with run­ning shoes. “We sell a bit of gro­ceries,” says Hashem. “Bread, milk, fruit, that kind of stuff. It keeps us busy. You just have to do your job and pro­vide for the com­mu­nity when they need it.”

Mul­ti­ple com­mu­ni­ties have ben­e­fit­ted from Hashem’s gen­eros­ity over the years. Hashem’s Va­ri­ety spon­sors the p.e.i. Road­run­ners Club’s Points Race Se­ries. Rob MacKen­zie, a com­pet­i­tive run­ner, for­mer p.e.i. Road­run­ners board mem­ber and cur­rent race or­ga­nizer rec­og­nizes that as long as the Asics gold­mine is around, the lo­cal run­ning scene is in good hands. “Aside from the Points Race spon­sor­ship, Salam do­nates rac­ing shoes as prizes for half a dozen races in any given year. If a race asks him to be a spon­sor, he will likely say yes. He is very gen­er­ous to that cause,” says MacKen­zie. He also rec­og­nizes the es­tab­lish­ment’s value to lo­cal run­ners beyond the spon­sor­ships Hashem pro­vides.

“I think what has made him such a main­stay on p.e.i. is that he made run­ning shoes more af­ford­able than any­where in Canada,” says MacKen­zie. “Salam has, per­haps un­know­ingly, kick-started many run­ning ca­reers.”

For Chais­son, Hashem has been an in­valu­able source of goods and guid­ance. Ever since that first pair of shoes as a youth, the two have devel­oped a strong friend­ship. “I love talk­ing races, times and per­for­mances with him,” says Chais­son. “We have a lot to talk about, be­cause we both run or ran com­pet­i­tively. Chais­son points out that Hashem val­ues ev­ery­one who comes into the store – no mat­ter what level of run­ner they are. “He is so en­cour­ag­ing and gen­uine, and that makes peo­ple com­fort­able to share their run­ning sto­ries and strug­gles with him,” says Chais­son. “He’s never rushed, and no mat­ter how many peo­ple are in the store at a time, he will take care of ev­ery new cus­tomer and learn a bit about them. In a way, he is the Yoda of p.e.i. run­ning.”

“I like talk­ing with Stan­ley about times and races,” says Hashem. “It is fun to learn those things about ev­ery­one who comes in the

store.” Although he takes in­ter­est in his cus­tomers’ run­ning sto­ries, hav­ing him dis­close his own race re­sults some­times takes some pry­ing. Aside from his slim physique, those old news­pa­per cut-outs of Hashem run­ning are the only re­main­ing clues of his prow­ess as a racer. He re­mem­bers, “back when I was run­ning lots – 90-mile weeks – I did OK in the marathon,” he says. “I won age-group ti­tles and medals in Kam­loops, Sum­mer­side and Toronto, but that was a long time ago.” Leg­end has it, he has an im­pres­sive num­ber of sub-three hour marathon fin­ishes to his name, some of which he ran in his 40s and 50s. He doesn’t race of­ten any­more, but he still runs 25–35 kilo­me­tres per week. “As long as I have health, I will run. I also do a bit of weights to stay strong in my up­per body,” he says.

Hashem’s rac­ing ca­reer may have been more il­lus­tri­ous had he not been tied down by his store. “It’s crazy that this man has never been to the Boston Marathon” says Chais­son. “He must have qual­i­fied sev­eral times, but was never will­ing to leave the store be­hind for a few days. He likes be­ing there and deal­ing with clients.”

“The store is al­ways busy,” con­firms Hashem, “so I like be­ing around.” The long work hours and in­fre­quent va­ca­tions do lit­tle to faze him. “I love what I do. Most peo­ple you meet in this sport are good, hon­est peo­ple. For me, it’s sim­ple. I do the best I can for the sport I love. I want it to grow and get more peo­ple into it, and I hope to keep mak­ing a dif­fer­ence.”

I’ M FOR­TU­NATE TO STILL BE GO­ING. THERE IS NOTH­ING I LOVE TO DO MORE THAN RUN­NING, SO I AM HAPPY WHEN I CAN MAKE IT EAS­IER FOR A RUN­NER TO AF­FORD TO DO WHAT THEY LIKE TO DO.

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