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Sandalman rides again

Old hippies are like fine leather, says Keith Gage-Cole. They may have lost their hair but they never wear out. Gage-Cole should know.

Old hippies are like fine leather, says Keith Gage-Cole.

They may have lost their hair but they never wear out.

Gage-Cole should know.

The leather craftsman is one of Victoria's most durable retail entrepreneurs, having designed, tailored and sold leather shoes, handbags and belts -- as well as clothing lines -- in 11 different locations around the downtown core since 1969.

His latest venture -- Heart and Sole at 1014 Cook St., between Simple Remedies and Bubby Rose's Cafe and Bakery -- is an offshoot of his downtown shoe store Footloose, which is operated by wife Kerstin Greiner and daughter Aleisha Gage-Cole. Heart and Sole provides Gage-Cole new retail and workshop space to increase production of his own sandal, belt and handbag designs.

The store at the so-called RockFort Junction -- between Fort and Rockland -- also sells factory shoe lines such as Birkenstock, John Fluevog, Josef Seibel, Sergio Tomani, Tsubo and Wolky. But it's Gage-Cole's originals that are bringing curious customers into the store.

Known as the Sandalman, Gage-Cole, 61, estimates he's made more than 5,000 pair over nearly 40 years, providing durable open-air footwear to multi-generations who have used them to tramp over every corner of the globe. He has sold sandals -- notably his Lord of the Rings style -- to every walk of life, from bankers to professional protesters and including personalities such as actor John Lithgow, Globe & Mail columnist Norm Spector and Canadian folk singer Valdy.

"I'm still having a lot of fun doing this," Gage-Cole said yesterday. "This time of year it's more handbags, but when the warmer weather comes, that's when people will start asking about sandals.

"And yes, I'm an old hippy," he added with a laugh while showing old pictures of his long hair and beard. "But I just comb my hair this way now."

He completely gutted a former upholstery shop and carved out a spartan retail space with raised workshop area where customers can watch him work. "I have taken a sow's ear and turned it into a silk purse," Gage-Cole said.

The serial entrepreneur, born and raised in Victoria, got his start in retail as a partner with childhood friend Glen Lynch in Baggins, who also still operates downtown, in 1969. It was a head-shop then, selling pipes and screens, T-shirts, incense, Indian clothing and other paraphernalia. Lynch has long since evolved the shop to become one of North America's largest sellers of Converse footwear.

Two years later, in 1971, Gage-Cole bought into Golden Apples of the Sun, a company that made leather bags and sandals.

He picked up a lot of the leather trade through watching and learning, and his designs and craftsmanship earned him a wide reputation. "A lot of my stuff is still out there being used," said Gage-Cole.

He said he stopped a girl on a bicycle recently and asked where she got her purse. "It was her mom's and I had made it for her years ago," said Gage-Cole. "I'm finding a lot of this work is multi-generational."

The key to success in retail, even during rough economic downturns like these, is to "pay attention to what's going on and be ready for it," said Gage-Cole. "And have quality products and friendly staff."

Prices for custom bags range in price, depending on detail, from $120 to $400 or more. Sandals go for $250 plus.

Gage-Cole is also the largest retailer in Victoria of Smartwool products and the EB Tilley and Canterbury slipper lines using New Zealand wool.

He also sells on consignment for local designers Bonspeil, Floating Gold Iceberg, and Catalyst Reaction.

Call 250-920-7653 or check the blog at

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The Land Title and Survey Authority of British Columbia has laid out succession plans for Ian Smith, the director and registrar of the corporation that tracks land ownership across the province.

Smith, who is retiring this spring, was named special adviser on real property law while his previous position will be split between two new appointments. Craig Johnston becomes the director of land titles and Andrea Brace was named registrar of the Victoria and Kamloops land title offices. Brace joins Land Titles from the Vancouver Island Health Authority where she worked as general counsel. Prior to that post, she was corporate solicitor for the Greater Vancouver Regional District. Johnston had been registrar of land titles for the Victoria and Kamloops offices since 2006. In another appointment in September, Larry Blaschuk was named registrar of the New Westminster land titles office . He had been in private practice in Vancouver.

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Long-time business coach and trainer Linda Conn has been named manager of the Sidney Business Association. She will be implementing a new member benefits package and promoting several events for the town's business community, including the Festival of Trees Dec. 10 to 17, window decorating and the Santa Parade and Sailpast Nov. 29. She's at 250-655-6417.

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Douglas, Victoria's business magazine, is on the lookout for new businesses to make its 10 To Watch List. Editor Norman Gidney said the magazine is looking for locally owned businesses established in the last three years that make a mark on our city for creativity and entrepreneurship. Nominees are being accepted and the 10 will be picked by a panel containing incoming chamber president John Juricic, Tartan Communications' Deirdre Campbell, UVic business prof Rebecca Grant, Mike Thompson of Royal Roads University and Daniela Cubelic of Silk Road. The 10 get major ink in Douglas' March/April issue. Click www.douglas

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Victoria's CILS-FM 107.9, the only community radio station operating in French in British Columbia, marked a significant milestone last Friday -- broadcasting 24 hours a day for the past year. The station is run by president and co-founder Jacques Vallée, producer Jocelyne Fontaine and director of programing Gérald Montpetit, and allows a voice for 6,000 francophones and 24,000 bilingual listeners in Greater Victoria. Click for schedules.

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