Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Happily selling shoes at age 89

May be oldest of kind in Canada

  • Print
JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
Leonard Harris, who turns 90 later this year, recently cut back his hours to part-time, but has no intentions of retiring.

Enlarge Image

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Leonard Harris, who turns 90 later this year, recently cut back his hours to part-time, but has no intentions of retiring.

Leonard Harris, 89, still drives to work downtown from his North End home three times a week. He turns 90 in October and figures he may be Canada's oldest shoe salesman.

He started working at Canadian Footwear when he was 73. Back then, he was a full-time employee. When he asked co-owner Brian Scharfstein for a job, he was told to come in on Saturdays and act as a greeter.

"They wanted me to put on a suit and be like one of those people at Walmart," Harris snorts. "I did it for two Saturdays and then said, 'Brian, I want a real job.' "

He was made a full-time "fitting specialist," working five days a week.

He cut back his hours in recent years, a reluctant concession to his age. His three adult children and some of his friends have asked why he doesn't just retire.

"I have no hobbies. I don't play bridge. I don't golf. I don't curl. And the dollars don't hurt, either."

He makes a little more than $13 an hour plus a two per cent commission if he hits a sales target. He says he averages about $1,000 a day in sales, down from his one-time average of $1,500 to $2,000. A much younger co-worker laughs that Harris's sales put his own to shame.

Harris feels at home at the shoe store, where he kibitzes with his co-workers and customers.

"I like the work. I like the people here. I think they like me. They haven't asked me to stop coming around."

He and his wife, Diane, recently celebrated their 50th anniversary.

He's been blessed with relatively good health. His vision is fine and his mind strong. Sixteen years ago, he had a quadruple bypass. About six years ago, he had surgery for a stomach aneurysm. Spondylosis in his spine causes him to hunch over when he walks. The slightly built octogenarian looks like a question mark as he shuffles through the store.

He has a bit of trouble with his breathing, he says. That slows him down. He goes to the Reh-Fit Centre three days a week, working the track with his walker.

Scharfstein calls Harris "an integral part of our business. He brings a lot of life."

Customers have mixed reactions to the elderly salesman, says the boss.

"We have those people who think he's the greatest, that it's wonderful he's still active and out," says Scharfstein. "There are people who will only come in when he's here. They want to help him carry boxes."

Not everyone's a fan.

"I've had really nasty phone calls and emails saying my wife and I are just awful that we make this poor old man work. We're not making him do anything! He loves being here."

Scharfstein recently had to tell Harris he can no longer work Saturdays.

"It's crazy-busy. Our staff keeps an eye on Leonard and they can't do that when we're so busy. We didn't want him up a ladder without anyone watching him."

The senior now uses the building elevator instead of taking the stairs to find the shoes customers request. His is a physical job in many ways. He bends over to measure a foot properly and then walks the store's various floors and backrooms to locate stock.

It's hard not to offer to give him a hand. Customers often do. "I tell them it's OK. It's my job. It's not their job."

Harris says he regrets his lack of formal education. "I didn't go to university. I remember in Grade 9 telling my mother I was done. I left for the big job that paid 10 cents an hour." He laughs.

Harris wasn't always a shoe salesman. He worked 50 years at Big 4 Sales and Stylerite. He began as a clerk and worked his way up to buyer. When owners Reuben Cristall and Max Gladstone sold the business, they negotiated a five-year, well-paying contract.

The new owner went bankrupt. Harris was in his 60s, but not ready to retire. He tried his hand in business, running a small North End department store. He kept busy and finally approached Scharfstein, who he'd known for years. A new career was born.

"I don't have any secrets," says Harris. "I like to work. I always have. I think we all want to feel useful."

lindor.reynolds@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 4, 2013 A10

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Bowman questioned on financial solutions for city

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • Horses enjoy a beautiful September morning east of Neepawa, Manitoba  - Standup Photo– Sept 04, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • A young gosling flaps his wings after taking a bath in the duck pond at St Vital Park Tuesday morning- - Day 21– June 12, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos

About Lindor Reynolds

National Newspaper Award winner Lindor Reynolds began work at the Free Press as a 17-year-old proofreader. It was a rough introduction to the news business.

Many years later, armed with a university education and a portfolio of published work, she was hired as a Free Press columnist. During her 20-plus years on the job she has written for every section in the paper, with the exception of Business. She’ll get around to them some day.

Lindor has received considerable recognition for her writing. Her awards include the Will Rogers Humanitarian Award, the National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ general interest award and the North American Travel Journalists Association top prize.
Her work on Internet luring led to an amendment to the Criminal Code of Canada and her coverage of the child welfare system prompted a change to Manitoba Child and Family Services Act to make the safety of children paramount.

She has earned three citations of merit for the Michener Award for Meritorious Public Service in Journalism and has been awarded a Distinguished Alumni commendation from the University of Winnipeg. Lindor was also named a YMCA/YWCA  Woman of Distinction.

She is married with four daughters. If her house was on fire and the kids and dog were safe, she’d grab her passport.
 
lindor.reynolds@freepress.mb.ca

Poll

Do you think e-cigarettes should be banned by the school division?

View Results

Ads by Google