Local Business

Searles Shoes

A legacy of outfitting families with footwear since 1918

Searles Shoes owners Derek and Cathy Newnes. Photo by Boomer Jerritt

Anyone born and raised in the Comox Valley during the last 99 years has most likely walked more than a mile or two in footwear from Searles Shoes in Downtown Courtenay. This locally-owned, small town grown shoe store has a history dating back to 1918 when shoemaker Jas E. Aston decided to stock footwear at this Fifth Street location. Shoe sales did so well that it wasn’t long before the store caught the attention of Victoria businessman Bob McCoubrey, who purchased it in 1919.

Over the next few years, the shoe store would change hands—and names—several times, due to various life circumstances. When McCoubrey passed away in 1923, Jack Paterson bought the store. Due to failing health, he sold it to Cy Paxton soon after. Paxton carried on until 1929 when A.T. Searle (whom the business was then named after) became the new owner.

Early in the 1950s Searle entered a partnership with Archie Welsh and Sid Williams and they took over the business. In 1955, Freddy Pisto joined as a partner. In 1963 Welsh retired, followed by Williams in 1966. Then, Neil Woodrow and Larry Holmes joined as partners, until Pisto sold the business to Woodrow in 1973.  Woodrow retired from the shoe business in 1993, and the husband and wife team of Derek and Cathy Newnes became the newest owners. A shoe store was the perfect fit for Derek, considering that he had had a long and successful career with Woodward’s Department Stores, as a buyer of shoes and accessories.

Having now worked in retail for almost 50 years, Derek and Cathy have seen many changes in merchandising.

“During our 23 years owning Searle’s Shoes we have seen our share of peaks and valleys,” says Derek. “The community has grown, and our business had to grow with it. It has been a challenge at times, but it has also been a wonderful pleasure to grow with such a vibrant community.

“Whether it has been with the Merchants’ Association (of old) or the Downtown Courtenay Business Improvement Area, we found it best to always have a good working relationship with the City,” he adds. “Like with any family, the loudest voice does not always make the best decision for the whole family.  As proprietors of the Searle’s legacy, we have tried to keep an ear to the community needs while maintaining its past and delivering our best, for the betterment of the City core and its future.”

Adds Cathy: “One of the biggest challenges we have being the custodian of Searle’s Shoes for the past 23 years, is to work on passing the history torch on. Being the oldest retail business in the downtown core, we are developing a succession plan to ensure that Searle’s Shoes maintains its legacy in the years to come.”

While they work on that succession plan, the Newnes family will continue their involvement within the community.  Derek, a long-standing member of the Courtenay Rotary Club, never has a shortage of projects to choose from and Cathy willingly helps out. “Whether at home or internationally, it will be our focus to give back where we feel we can help the most,” insists Derek. “We are confident that philanthropy and our family will keep us busy in the years to come.”

In conclusion, as a farewell to the InFocus Magazine team, Derek says: “As the InFocus team wraps up publication after 25 years, we want them to know the value we have received from being part of this great magazine will be part of us.

“InFocus has firmly consummated itself as a chapter in this area’s rich and vibrant history book.  Searle’s loved being there from its beginning and wishes them all a fulfilling future.”