Entrepreneurs go feet first
If the shoe fits ... chances are you’ll find it at SAS
Jeremy Newnes says he can make Cinderellas out of just about anyone crossing the threshold of his new shoe store.
From slim and small to long and triple-wide, the owner of SAS Comfort Shoes in the Douglas Centre says the famous shoemaker from San Antonio, Texas, has long been noted for making sizes for any foot.
San Antonio Shoemakers has been handcrafting leather shoes since 1976, and the original owners are still thriving despite the flood of cheaper footwear manufactured offshore that has saturated the retail scene over the decades.
The SAS brand has been available at higher end local shoe retailers for years, but Newnes has opened the first dedicated store for the company in British Columbia — and just the fourth in Canada after Calgary, Montreal and Toronto. SAS has 300 stores in the U.S.
That means more sizes for people difficult to fit.
Newnes, for example, carries women’s sizes 4 to 12, some with five widths.
“Everyone’s got different feet and for some people it’s almost impossible to get something that’s exactly right,” said Newnes. “What they generally do is compensate. Because they have a really wide foot, they buy an extra size.
Newnes said SAS has a “real cult following.”
“Once they wear this, it’s all they wear. The wider or slimmer sizes make a big difference to overall health.
“People beat the crap out of their feet until there’s a problem, and then they have to go for comfort.”
Shanna Wilson has narrow feet, a 4A wide — usually the narrowest shoe available anywhere — and that’s made shoe-buying a trying experience for the 36-year-old Victorian. “I can’t walk into a shoe store and just buy a pair of shoes ... they don’t carry anything I can wear,” she said.
She is aware of the SAS brand and has seen the shoes in local shops, but hasn’t bought any. She’s been able to find her narrow size in other brands carried at Ingeldew’s in Victoria. “I’ve had to stick to plain, neutral colours. I can’t go out and buy that $200 pair of red heels, because they just don’t fit.”
Wilson says there are a lot of people in her predicament in Greater Victoria who have to settle for what they can get, often compromising style for comfort.
SAS produces 40 different styles, generally aimed at the over-40 market. Included in the lines are so-called “duty shoes” like nurses whites and others with the anti-slip soles coveted by kitchen and hotel staff.
Prices range from $125 to $165 for women and $175 to $210 for men.
“SAS doesn’t put out a lot of styles every season ... comfort doesn’t become trendy,” says Newnes. He’s visited the factory several times, even making a shoe from start (that’s cutting the leather) to finish (stitching it together).
“It takes them a long time to develop a shoe — sometimes five years before it gets to market. I saw a guy [in the factory] wearing a shoe I’d never seen. He was still testing it out after a year.”
Newnes enters the business with an honest pedigree. His father, Derek, has been in the business 40 years, starting as a stockboy in the shoe department at Woodward’s, graduating to a buyer and, for the past 16 years, running Searle’s Shoes in Courtenay.
Newnes, 34, a University of Victoria grad, had worked for a golf marketing company for a time and then lived for years in Japan, where he opened two English schools.
He and wife Aki opened the 2,200-square-foot store on June 18, kitting out the new space with vintage Coke machine, popcorn maker, rocking chairs and a 120-year-old quilt.