Victoria shoe retailers take weight off their feet

When Field’s Shoes closes its doors on July 31, it will bring to an end more than a century of shoe sales at 1300 Government St. in the historic Adelphi building.

It will also mark a new beginning for the 1891 heritage-designated property as buyer GMC Projects Inc. draws up restoration plans to “breathe new life” into the corner of Yates and Government streets, chief executive Jordan Milne said Friday.

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GMC Projects has struck a three-building deal for the Adelphi and its neighbours at 574-576 Yates St. and 1306 Government St. The sale closes July 31.

The Adelphi was designed by architect Thomas Hooper, whose work includes 1108 Government St., home of Munro’s Books, the Pemberton Building at the corner of Government and Broughton streets and the western addition to St. Ann’s Academy.

The owners, sisters Janet Simmonds and Sue McKerracher, decided to sell the three buildings and close the business, purchased by their father, Duncan McKerracher, in 1973. He died in 1992.

Store manager Matthew Simmonds, Janet’s husband, said the family wants people to know “how thankful we are for the support that Field’s Shoes enjoyed over its many years in downtown Victoria. It really was a privilege to meet so many wonderful people.”

Historic directories for Victoria show a listing in 1917 for Modern Shoes at 1300 Government St. The listing changed in the mid-1960s to Field’s Shoes.

The store used to be called Field’s Shoes for Men, developing a reputation for high-quality work boots and cowboy boots, as well as dress shoes. It served workers who needed sturdy footwear for heavy-industry jobs, once common in Victoria.

“In the early years, all the work-boot sales were all related to the mills and things that used to be up and down the Upper Harbour area. When all of those places closed or changed, that market went away for the store,” Matthew Simmonds said.

Field’s moved into women’s footwear, which surpassed sales of men’s products.

But online shopping has cut into sales from brick-and-mortar stores, which also compete with manufacturers that have their own websites and stage sales and shipping promotions.

Other challenges include chain stores carrying a wide selection of brands and increased retail competition outside downtown, Matthew Simmonds said.

Milne said GMC Projects plans to “reinvigorate” the three-storey Adelphi. A building permit and a heritage alteration permit will be submitted to the city. There are plans for interior and exterior improvements, including new paint to highlight design details. Some older windows are covered up and some do not operate.

“We are quite excited to bring even more character back from what exists today,” Milne said.

“We are sort of stewards of this and we really want to do it in a good way.”

Plans call for three rental apartments — one each on the two upper levels of the Adelphi and another on the upper floor of the two-level 1306 Government St. building. The buildings do not currently have any residential tenants.

“We are really excited. That is our business primarily — it is really focused around creating high-quality mixed-use rental environments,” Milne said.

Existing ground-floor tenants are remaining: Command Post of Militaria at 1306 Government St., Frances Grey clothing at 574 Yates St., and Quesada Burritos and Tacos at 576 Yates St.

GMC holdings include the restored historic Bell Apartments at 1021 Cook St., which has 20 rental units. The building was damaged by fire and GMC subsequently purchased it and carried out extensive improvements sympathetic to its original features. “We worked hard to try and preserve all the character that we could,” Milne said.

cjwilson@timescolonist.com

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