Shoe merchant's career recounted

Kevin Thomas moves stock to the new Thomas Shoes store in South Dunedin before retiring at the weekend. Photo by Stephen Jaquiery.
Kevin Thomas moves stock to the new Thomas Shoes store in South Dunedin before retiring at the weekend. Photo by Stephen Jaquiery.
A South Dunedin sole trader, who was always happy to see down-at-heel customers, is hanging up his shoehorn.

Kevin Thomas started at his family business, Arthur Thomas Shoes, in 1978. He had worked earlier for the Union Steamship Co as an office boy.

''We were by the Mayfair Theatre then. We've had three generations of customers coming through here since then,'' he recalled in the store yesterday.

The business was started by his grandfather, Arthur Thomas, and continued by his father, also Arthur Thomas, who moved it to 145 King Edward St in the mid-1960s.

''The history of the place is a bit vague. We're pretty sure the shop started in June 1921,'' Mr Thomas (71) said.

''It's a different world to back then. South Dunedin has changed, too. Thursday shopping was the boom days, really. It's more of a service centre than a retail centre here now.''

The shoe business had also changed, he said.

''When I started, it was all New Zealand brands; like McKinlays and Doc Martens, which were made in Dunedin under licence.

''It just sort of evolves and you have to change what you stock. Everything has its day, at some stage.

''The Clark's Nomads were probably the shoe that lasted the longest. They lasted nine years.

''But once the law changed and they allowed imports in, the New Zealand companies disappeared one after the other,'' he said.

''I think the public is probably more demanding now and there's a lot more variety. The technology's changed quite a bit, too. It's quite rare to find a leather-soled shoe these days.''

Mr Thomas and his brother, David (60), have been running the family business together since the mid-1980s.

''We've always covered each other. David likes the purchasing and selling side and I like the numbers,'' he said.

''It's been a good business, but I doubt I'd get into retail if I was starting over again. I'd probably choose something else, the way things are now.''

The brothers sold the building last year and Thomas Shoes will stroll across the road into the former-Wolfenden and Russell building this weekend.

Mr Thomas officially retires at 1pm tomorrow and then he and his wife, Bronwyn, have a month-long holiday to Austria, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Montenegro and Italy planned.

''I'm looking forward to the next few months. I'm not a golfer, or a fisherman, or a bowler, but I'll still have plenty to do.''

David, meanwhile, will be opening up the new Thomas Shoes store at 9am on Tuesday.

- nigel.benson@odt.co.nz

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