Vincent Canning Jr., whose family’s shoe store has been an institution on Delray Beach’s Atlantic Avenue for six decades, has died at 88.
Canning died Feb. 18, “wearing his Buster Brown watch,” his family wrote in an obituary published Sunday.
Born Christmas Day in 1929 in Indianapolis, he spent two years in the Marines, then worked for four years for the Brown Shoe Co., famed for its Buster Brown children’s shoes.
In 1957, he moved to Delray Beach to own and operate — and rename as Vince Canning Shoes — the store his father, Vince Sr., had taken over in 1952 at 335 Atlantic Ave. It originally was Warren Shoes.
At the time, Delray Beach had about 6,500 residents, a tenth of its current estimated 65,000.
Canning twice would expand the store, eventually doubling its original size. He would open satellite shops in Boynton Beach, Boca Raton and Pompano Beach; the family eventually closed those but still operates the original Delray Beach store as well as an online business.
“He was larger than life. With always a smile. And just to nice to everybody,” nephew Mark Denkler said Sunday. Deckler took over the store when Canning retired in 1994.
In a 2002 story on the shop’s 50th anniversary, Denkler said, “My uncle would open the store in the morning, sweep in front of the store and wave ‘hello’ to the other shop owners who were doing the same. We still do that every morning.”
Canning also was a prolific philanthropist and community business leader. He at times was a president of the Delray Beach Chamber of Commerce, Atlantic Avenue Association and Kiwanis, and served on the boards of the Delray Beach libraries and playhouse and the Boca Raton and Boynton Beach chambers of commerce. He also started “Open Your Heart, Open Your Closet” a clothing and food drive now run by the city to collect shoes and clothes for migrant workers.
His many honors included a lifetime achievement award from the Delray Beach chamber. He also was active in St. Vincent Ferrer Church and CROS Ministries.
On Valentine’s Day, he would hand out $2 bills to customers who came in wearing red. And for decades, he’d lead Delray Beach’s Halloween parade in costume. At the 2000 parade, he was decked out in a scarecrow outfit, complete with burlap tunic, red cheek dots and a bright red bandana. He wasn’t the only alleged grown-up acting like a kid. He said at the time he couldn’t count how many parades he’d marched in.
“I like to see the smiles on the faces,” he said.
“Vince Canning was a good friend and he was ethical as the day is long. He loved Delray Beach and was a good steward of its early growth and direction, retired Delray Beach Fire Chief Kerry Koen wrote on Canning’s obituary page.
Canning, who decades ago lost an infant daughter, is survived by his wife, Patricia, and numerous niece and nephews.
As a tribute to Canning’s Irish heritage, a Mass is set for 10 a.m. St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, at St. Vincent Ferrer Church, 840 George Bush Blvd., Delray Beach. The family has asked that, instead of flowers, people donate to the St. Vincent Ferrer Care Ministry.