Stepping away: Mark and Michelle Fricker in the family store in Belmont. Picture: Simone de Peak. WHEN Mark and Michelle Fricker threw open the doors to their eponymous shoe store in Belmont in 1983, they had a loose plan of when they’d close.
“Back then, people were retiring in their 50s and I said to Michelle, if it goes well I’ll retire in 35 years, why can’t I?” laughs Mr Fricker, 59.
Why not, indeed. Come Christmas Eve, the Frickers will close their store –the last in the Frickers Shoes empire which was founded in 1953 by Mark’s father Ern and at its peak had 12 stores between Sydney and Newcastle.
If their closing down sale keeps up its current pace, they may close in the days beforehand.
With his siblings Bill and Peter, Mark Fricker went into the family business after high school.Bill ran three stores in Newcastle (The Junction, Marketown and Hunter Street mall) while Peter managed the Sydney stores.
Mark and Michelle Fricker moved from Sydney to launch the Belmont store, opening at a time when the Pacific Highway was bustling and there were four competitorswithin cooee.
“There used to be a constant flow of people passing by but all the foot traffic has gone,” said Mr Fricker.
The closure of government service centres including the motor registry and Medicare, alongside all but one of the big four banks, has been a blight on trade. Then, of course, the internet has changed everything.
In the glory days, Mr Fricker would receive appointments on a Tuesday from no less than eight shoe representatives. As budgets tightened, he has had to buy his stock online.
“That’s tough,” he says, “because you have to touch and feel shoes to know them.”
Mr Fricker and his wife have fond memories of their store, where their children and many long-time staff members worked.
“We were always family-oriented and tried to be everything for for everybody,” he says. “The back to school period was hard work but exciting: we saw kids every year growing up and thenbringing their kids in. Customers became family.”
A footnote: at 89, Ern Fricker is still giving counsel on how to run a closing down sale, Mark quips.