TARPON SPRINGS — If you look behind every successful downtown district across the country, you’ll typically find a handful of longstanding, often family-run businesses.
In Tarpon Springs, there are several such legacy stores, shops and restaurants that make up the fabric of Pinellas County’s northernmost city, but not many that can boast of more than a century’s worth of serving customers while still remaining successful today.
Vasile George Faklis opened the Faklis Department Store and Shoe Repair shop in 1912 shortly after the master shoemaker emigrated from Greece. Today his sons, George Vasile Faklis and Michael Vasile Faklis, and his grandson, also named Vasile George Faklis, remain hard at work keeping the family’s legacy alive.
“My grandfather was a master shoemaker in Greece, and he came here at the turn of the (20th) century after he and his brother apprenticed at a shoe factory in Symi,” Vasile Faklis said during a recent trip to the shop, which is now at 139 E. Tarpon Ave. after starting out a few blocks away. “They used to make shoes, but during the Great Depression people didn’t have money, so he started repairing shoes more and the store evolved from making shoes to repairing them.”
Faklis explained that “little by little things grew and it became a full department store,” featuring clothes, suits, hats and other items, and he noted his grandfather’s and fellow local businessman Abraham Tarapani’s shops soon became the cornerstones of the local business community.
“Tarapani opened in 1911 and we opened in 1912,” Faklis said of Tarapani’s store located across the street that now features artwork, antiques and other interior design items. “They were very involved in the church and the community and philanthropic organizations. They would help each other and still do today.”
As the country evolved, Faklis’ store did the same.
After graduating from college, Vasile Faklis went to school for orthotics and pedorthics and in 1994 they added an orthotic clinic. Today, Faklis’ store features an on-site physical therapist and occupational therapist, giving them the ability to provide full head-to-toe evaluations for clients.
“It’s all about proper fit and wellness, so we wanted to take it to the next level,” he said, noting the additional services “all tie into what we’ve been doing, which is a full evaluation, biomechanically and neuromuscularly, because you’re treating someone from head to toe to make sure they have the proper balance. We have more of a proactive approach than reactive.”
While it might be tempting for a business that’s been around for so long to rest on its laurels, that’s not the case at Faklis’ shop. In addition to adding the clinic, Vasile Faklis said he is the only one in the state certified through Germany in sensorimotor insoles, a custom shoe insert designed to strengthen and stabilize the foot muscles, and he said he believes the longer the business is open the harder they must work to remain relevant.
“We’ve developed a trust with our customers that gives us a leg up,” he said without a hint of irony. “So, we try not to change too much. But I think we have to work harder because we’re not the new kid on the block.”
To that point, Faklis said they have some changes planned for the store, which, with its long rows of wooden shelves stocked with shoes, clothes and historic memorabilia and walls full of pictures, plaques and old signs, could be mistaken for a mini museum of Tarpon history.
“We’re going to rearrange some things, bring the clinic in the back more into the open so people can see what we do, as well as redoing our website along with some other changes,” he said.
“We still do things the old way but we’re always evolving and getting better and reinventing ourselves in a good way. We know we have a loyal clientele, but we always want to grow.”
When asked what he thought was the secret to the Faklis family’s century-plus success, Faklis said, “We’ve had this motto forever and it says it all: Treat people properly, take care of the customer and provide quality service. My grandfather and father and uncle taught me my work ethic and we like to take old world craftsmanship and work ethic with new world technology, and when you combine them you go to the next level, and it gives us the best way to treat our patients and customers. It’s all about evaluating and spending time with people. Good, quality work takes time and we put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into our work.”
Photos by JEFF ROSENFIELD
Brothers Michael Vasile Faklis, 90, left, and George Vasile Faklis, 83, pose with Vasile George Faklis, center, at their downtown Tarpon Springs shoe and orthopedic services shop. The family has been providing Tarpon residents and visitors with goods and services ever since master shoemaker Vasile Faklis emigrated from Greece and founded the business in 1912.
Vasile Faklis, right, consults with his father, George, on a shoe repair at their shop recently.
The Faklis Footwear and Shoe Repair shop features long rows of shoes, clothes and historic Tarpon memorabilia, including these special sponge-diving shoes founder Vasile Faklis created soon after he opened the store in 1912.
The Faklis Footwear and Shoe Repair shop features long rows of shoes, clothes and historic Tarpon memorabilia, including this collection of old photos.
The Faklis Footwear and Shoe Repair shop features long rows of shoes, clothes and historic Tarpon memorabilia.
The Faklis Shoe and Orthopedic Services family: From left, George Faklis and Katie Faklis, employee Cornelia Matthewson, Michael Faklis, psychical therapist Karen Meriales Gonzales and Vasile George Faklis.
The Faklis Shoe and Orthopedic Services shop, located at 139 E. Tarpon Ave., was founded in 1912 and is still successful today, thanks to three generations of Faklises offering a combination of merchandise, services and customer care.