The 2014 Grand Marshals of the Novato 4th of July Parade are Ernie and Charlene Zunino, who retired from business in September 2013 after running the oldest continuously operating family business in Novato, Zunino’s Shoe Repair on Grant Avenue. The shop was opened in 1910 by Ernie’s grandfather, Angelo, and was widely known among locals for more than just the repair of shoes, belts and handbags. Residents dropped in just for conversation and to find out the latest town gossip. The shop is dearly missed, but the Zuninos are still here. You could say they’ve still got sole.
Here’s a recent conversation with Ernie and Charlene.
What was your reaction to being named grand marshals of the parade?
Ernie: I thought it was pretty nice to be honored with that.
Charlene: I thought it was great because we were the oldest business in Novato. What a way to go out.
What’s your favorite thing about the parade?
Ernie: Oh, I’ve been going to the parade since I was a little kid if you include Western Weekend parade. That was a big deal back then. I like it all, everything about the parade. I like all the tanks, the military stuff, which kind of tickles me because other countries show off their new stuff at parades and we show off our old stuff. I love the old cars. But it’s the people … that’s what I really like.
Charlene: I like the military vehicles, too. It’s special to have them because it’s America. We’ve been getting away from the showing the flag and celebrating America and patriotic things. I know for a few people have complained about the war stuff, but to me that’s part of the reason why people are free today.
What do you miss about the store?
Ernie: Same thing, I miss all the people. I go downtown just to see the people. I go to Lucky and I’m there for two hours, chatting with everybody. There were too many people I liked during my work years, and that’s the problem.
Charlene: It’s the customers we miss, not the work. My memories are not about fixing the stuff and grinding away for 35 years, it’s the customers who dropped in. And all the people along Grant Avenue we saw every day.
How are you passing your time?
Ernie: I’m a stamp collector. I’ve got my garden and I got my stamps. Daisy (the dog) and I go for a walk every day and hang around. I’ve been offered jobs in shoe repair shops, but why work in a shop that’s not mine? Honestly, I wish I was still in the store. Charlene is always busy, always. Around the house I do the dusting and dustmopping, but she wants everything clean. I’m not allowed to make a mess.
Charlene: I’ve had a second job for 16 years as a cross guard for the schools. Right now I’m at Pleasant Valley, but now that school is out I’m still very busy. I’m at my mother’s house (in Petaluma) at least twice a week helping out and I have a lot to do at home. Ernie works on his stamps and takes Daisy for a walk, but he’s kind of bored. We’ve gotta get him busy. He has a chance to be a cross guard, also, and I think that would be good for him.
What are some of the things Novato ought to be most proud of?
Ernie: I think Novato is one of nicest towns within a 100-mile area. It’s better than all of them that I know. I’d have a hard time living someplace else. We have some beautiful country here. Great fire department, great police department, great hospital.
Charlene: I think it’s the sense of community, especially 10 years ago when Ernie was really sick and we closed the store for two years. The Rotary Club basically kept it open and other people donated money. Novato people are friendly and they are there to help each other. You know, it’s still a small town, the kind that closes up at 7 o’clock at night and nobody’s around. There are not many towns like that. All the special events, like the parade and the Novato Festival, are things that help people come together as a town.
What will it be like during the parade for you?
Ernie: I’m just going to wave a lot, that’s all. I’ll holler at a few people, I suppose. If you see me jump out of the car and run for the bathroom, that’s one of my problems. It’s part of getting old.
Charlene: I’ll love it. We can’t bring Daisy because it’s going to be too hot. She was a celebrity on Grant Avenue. She had her fame already.