SEQUIM — Before they were a couple, they were a customer and a business owner.
Now Jon and Donna Harrison are making a new path together in retirement.
Harrison’s Comfort Footwear, at 609 W. Washington St., in Sequim — a regular stop for many locals for various forms of footwear, orthotics and friendly conversation for the past 20-plus years — is under new ownership.
The Harrisons have sold to Beck’s Shoes, a California-based store. The fifth-generation-run company that originated in Denmark has stores in California, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Washington state.
“They’re keeping our crew; that meant the world to us,” Jon said from the back office of the downtown shoe store.
“We searched for … a quality store [to sell to], a sit-and-fit. You don’t see that anymore.”
Since 1984, Harrison has owned and operated at least one independent shoe store following 11 years at Nordstrom in Seattle, with the Sequim operation, his fifth, opening in 2001.
He opened a branch of Harrison’s Comfort Footwear in 2004 before handing over the reigns to his son Chris. Earlier this year, Beck’s bought the Poulsbo store, and was soon interested in the Sequim market.
“[We weren’t] going to leave the store unless someone was going to buy it and keep the employees,” Donna said.
The staff will remain the same, the Harrisons noted, including manager Kevin Breckenridge.
“Best manager we’ve ever had in five stores,” Jon said of Breckenridge.
Adam Back, CEO of Beck’s Shoes, said he had a conversation with Jon and Donna soon after talking with Chris Harrison, and were able to work out a deal.
“We service a lot of smaller communities through the [region],” Beck said late last week.
“I’m more of a small town guy even though I have businesses in larger markets. I grew up in a small town —Boulder Creek, in California — and I’ve always taken a liking to these small communities.”
Beck said his company will do more interior branding before changing the store name, typically 12 to 18 months after the change-over, because “we want to make sure consumers get a chance to know us.”
Beck said the Poulsbo branch of Harrison’s has seen success in a short period of time.
“Our whole business model is that we roll out red carpet to every customer who walks in,” Beck said. “I’m super pumped about Sequim.”
As for product changes, Beck said that with his contacts, including a lot of sourcing overseas, Sequim customers may see as many as 20-30 additional brand names and hundreds more styles.
“It’s pretty exciting; I have a lot of connections … [that will] really give that population a much broader selection of brand names and good price points [and] a really robust selection of brands they’ve heard of,” he said.
The timing was right to call it a career, said Jon, who recently turned 80.
“He still acts like he’s 12,” Donna joked.
“I’m blessed, honestly; every day is an adventure,” Jon said.
Harrison’s shoes and orthotics have gone on everyone from construction workers to politicians to local golf professionals to pro basketball players, mountain climbers and even one customer allergic to the glue used in shoe construction.
Referrals began coming in nearly a year into opening his Seattle shop, he said, following a partnership with Dr. Martin Mankey. Jon said Mankey consulted with him about helping people with soft tissue issues.
Harrison became part-time staff at various medical facilities including the University of Washington and Harborview Medical Center training under foot and ankle doctors. In 1987, longtime trainer Frank Furtado with the Seattle SuperSonics approached Harrison for help with their 7-foot center with plantar fasciitis, which led Harrison to make orthotics for players through 2003.
One of his designs included a steel bar rocker to help players shorten their stride and make them run faster and helps take pressure off their lower back, knees and ankles.
Harrison’s Comfort Shoes opened in Sequim in 2001 with Jon splitting his time between Sequim and Seattle.
“As I age, I still wanted to do what I do, but I knew I didn’t want to do 900 [orthotics] a year,” Jon said in a previous interview.
In 2003, he sold his Seattle store to his friend Andy Duval but soon thereafter opened another shop in Poulsbo. That eventually went to his son Chris.
Donna said she was dealing with significant hip pains, the kind that flared on stairs or even turning over in bed, before she found the cure from an unexpected source. Her parents had received orthotics from a Sequim shoe specialist, and they urged her to visit Harrison’s.
“They said, ‘Jon will fix you!’” Donna recalled.
Jon saw the problem right away; all she needed for less hip and knee pain was the right pair of shoes to keep her level.
“The pain went away instantly,” Donna said.
After several years of being his customer, she said, “I had to marry him. I had no choice.”
That’s something both Harrisons will miss: like Donna’s revelation, the pair enjoy seeing people come into the store seeking solutions to their foot problems and going away often pain-free.
In recent years Donna has spearheaded Ladies’ Day, a promotion she ran in conjunction with nearby businesses with much success. It then switched to an anniversary sale as a way to help clear inventory.
The Harrisons aren’t going anywhere — “We love the community, we love the people,” Jon said — but it’s time to let others take care of running the business full-time.
“I never took a day off, mentally. People would come in and I’d want to do the best I could,” Jon said. “I think I’ll have to adjust to that.”
The Harrisons said they’ll stay active, likely finding activities to do with their non-denominational Gardiner Community Church. Donna, who said she loves to cook, has found serving food a way to feed her soul and others.
“We don’t know what God has planned for us,” she said.
“There’s always something, though,” Jon noted.
“This,” Donna said of their imminent retirement, “will give us time to find what our next mission is.”
The Harrisons said they would love to hear from their customers from over the years. Contact them at [email protected].
Michael Dashiell is the editor of the Sequim Gazette of the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which also is composed of other Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News and Forks Forum. Reach him at [email protected].