Lorna Watkinson-Zimmer is selling her store, Comforts the Sole. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff).

Downtown Red Deer booster is selling her Comforts the Sole business after 25 years

Former city councillor Lorna Watkinson Zimmer wants to finally retire

When it comes to retirement, Lorna Watkinson-Zimmer hopes the third time sticks.

The owner of Comforts the Sole has put her 25-year-old downtown business on the selling block. “I’m old and grey, and I’d like more time for other things” — such as travel, she said, with a chuckle.

Admittedly, retirement hasn’t been something the former city councillor and downtown advocate has been good at.

After she stopped teaching elementary school in 1995, Watkinson-Zimmer filled her available hours with city council meetings and operating her downtown business.

In 2010, she decided not to run for municipal re-election — but she kept running Comforts the Sole, which has grown and diversified.

Watkinson-Zimmer opened the store on Little Gaetz Avenue in 1993 at her brother’s suggestion. Her sibling had a Birkenstock store in Saskatoon, but she was placing so many sandal orders through him for friends, “he told me I might as well open my own store.”

She picked a commercial site on Little Gaetz Avenue when the downtown wasn’t prospering: “There were literally tumbleweeds blowing down the street and everything was all papered up.”

She recalled turning to her husband to say, “What did we do?”

Now the downtown has many independent shops, restaurants and cafes, that sit along decorative walkways, interspersed with flower baskets and other improvements that Watkinson-Zimmer, and the rest of council, envisioned and then approved as part of the Greater Downtown Action Plan.

The problems of homelessness and crime continue — but the same can be said for all city cores, said Watkinson-Zimmer.

She firmly believes all downtowns are worth preserving as the historic hearts of a city, and keys to its identity. Other parts — the suburbs and power centres — are more cookie-cutter, she added.

Watkinson-Zimmer said she’s loved getting to know her customers, her staff of four, as well as neighbouring business owners, who look out for each other. “There’s no where else I would rather have located.”

While she has no intention of shutting down the store — noting that some inventory is already ordered for 2019 — she hopes somebody with vision and energy will step up to buy it — so that she can finally retire.


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