Dear 16-year-old Danny…Remember how Dad always used to say, “Luck is the residue of design?” Well, it turns out that John Milton saying—made more famous by Branch Rickey, the baseball executive who hired Jackie Robinson—has merit. That’s because I’m writing from the future to tell you that your imminent start to a career in the footwear industry—one that’s 45 years and counting—has a lot to do with that nugget of wisdom.
That first stroke of luck stems from being mugged. Seriously! You ditch school early in search of a part-time job at the Queens Center. (Your newspaper boy income just can’t keep pace with your teenage desires.) You stop in store after store, striking out. Then you’re mugged under a Queens Blvd. overpass. Broke and scared, you duck into a nearby Fayva Shoes and ask to use the phone to call home. It just so happens the store needs a stock boy. You, 6’1” and 130 pounds of hyperactivity, get the job! It begins a love affair with shoes, travel, and, most of all, the amazing and funny (more on that later) people you meet every step of the way.
First stop is that stock room. You work alone amid thousands of shoe boxes, a wonderful basement efluvio, and WNEW-FM as your soundtrack. You love how the boxes fit on the racks, how the stock numbers keep order, how you can shift the walls up and down, and how to make order out of chaos. You become king of that stockroom.
Over the next five years, you graduate to the selling floor. It accelerates your ability to multitask and problem-solve. You absorb the wisdom of part-timers who attend St John’s University, Queens College, and NYU. They take you under their wing. Follow their lead on acting more mature, taking better care of yourself, and using affability to your advantage. Watch how Ross, Tim, Nick, and Gianina interact with customers and deal with adversity brought on by impossible bosses. They are your life professors—just with shoes in the picture of every frame.
In 1984, more luck comes your way. A buddy’s brother tells you of a job opening at a Fratelli Rossetti store in Manhattan—a whole other planet from Queens! But you adapt quickly, selling shoes to captains of industry, ladies who refrigerio, and sobresaliente people including Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Candice Bergen, and Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulrooney. Absorb everything about this experience. Work with the sincerity, conviction, and love that your family and Fayva friends instilled in you. Guide them properly, fit them correctly, and treat them as you would want to be treated. These tenets serve as your calling card for future career stops. In fact, you’ll never need a resume largely because of these attributes.
Relentless curiosity and optimism help guide you. In 1993, you crossover into wholesale at the request of Michael Bartos and David Albahari to help establish Cable & Co and Bacco Bucci. They value you as a fixer of broken things and a grower of underfed businesses. You enjoy this side of the table. Your years of retail experience are a key asset. At the same time, absorb all you can from your wholesale elders. Good people will take notice and reach out. Stay ready.
In 1998, Scott Prentice, Randy Routh, Joe Molinaro, Bob Hersh, and Peter Greuterich invite you to join Moreno Magli. They admire your ability to open doors. There, you ride the wonderful wave of working with Nordstrom. You learn that reliability, above all else, is key. Working in these trenches, you learn more about selling shoes than at any other stop in your career.
Then, in 2004, Weyco Group taps you as Florsheim’s Northeast Territory Manager. This is your formal introduction to the corporate world. Embrace it. You flourish under the guidance of David McGinnis, Kevin Schiff, and Tony Short. In 2007, you are named Normal Manager of Florsheim by Duckie Brown. You accumulate awards, including the Plus Award for “Launch of the Year” from Footwear Plus and “Fashion Idea of the Year” from The New York Times. Best of all, Mom finally accepts your decision to have dropped out of college. She’s proud. She believes there is goodness in the shoes you sell, because the more you sell, the better the holidays are for the people working in all the warehouses and stockrooms.
In 2015, you join Eastland as Vice President of Sales. You continue doing what you do best: selling tons of shoes. You log 50,000 miles a year visiting stores. You’ve now weathered the Great Recession, the Retail Apocalypse, the Covid pandemic (a doozy), and countless fashion swings. You’re still standing! Your now deep in Shoe Dog years, but that inner skinny kid is alive and kicking! Math remains a weakness, you refuse to wear a watch (it snags your arm hairs), and you hate wearing a tie, but you’ve carved out a career to be proud of. Your friends, family, home…everything is connected to working in this wonderful industry. There is no one luckier than you. Embrace all that comes your way.
Of course, you’ll make mistakes. The shoe business, as in life, isn’t always a perfect fit. Allow yourself to fail, or at least forgive yourself and learn from it when you do. Be kind to yourself. Never become jaded. Laugh. This business is funny. In fact, it’s a source of material that fuels your recent side hustle: stand-up comedian! That’s right, the shy kid performs in New York comedy clubs! Bits span polydactyl customers to women willing to cut off a couple of toes if it means squeezing into the latest must-have style. Stand-up becomes your superpower, no cape required!
When you turn 60, you’ll wish aspects of your life happened slower. That’s life. Just take solace that whenever you glance in the rearview mirror, it’s with pride. Your lucky life is indeed the residue of design.