WINCHESTER — One of the community's most beloved business owners has passed away.
Dong Chu “Tony” Kim, a native of South Korea who operated Tony’s Shoe Repair from the late 1990s until poor health forced him to close the shop in mid-2018, died at home on Valentine's Day after a two-year battle with cancer. He was 56.
"We were really hoping and praying Tony would make it through this," his wife of 34 years, Thailand native Krisiana "Kris" Kim, said on Saturday. "I'm grateful and thankful for the time we had together."
Tony's Shoe Repair at 2210 Wilson Blvd. in Winchester has enjoyed a level of customer loyalty rarely seen in the modern business world. Most people who dealt with Tony Kim said they would wait as long as necessary for him to fix their shoes rather than taking them to another shop.
"He loved his job," said Kris Kim's sister, Kanitta Greer of Georgia. "He could do it blindfolded."
About 10 years ago, Tony Kim was diagnosed with gout. At first, the painful flareups were few and far between, but they became more frequent as the years passed.
"He was tired all the time, and he had pain in his shoulder from working," she said.
Midway through 2018, the Kims discovered the gout symptoms had been masking something much more serious.
Tony Kim was driving his wife and the youngest of their five children, Rachel, on Millwood Pike (U.S. 50) in Frederick County when he said he wasn't feeling well. He stopped their vehicle and got out for some air.
"He passed out in the middle of the road," Kris Kim said.
She dragged her husband back to the side of the road as several passing motorists stopped to offer assistance. Kris Kim said she doesn't recall their names, but she is eternally grateful for their kindness.
By the time an ambulance arrived, Tony Kim had regained consciousness but had a pulse so faint that paramedics had trouble finding it.
"They asked if he wanted to go to the emergency room, but like all men, he said he wanted to go home," Kris Kim said.
When he got back into the family's truck, 17-year-old Rachel said her father's face went blank and she had to catch him as he fell.
Tony Kim was loaded into an ambulance and taken to Winchester Medical Center.
"They said he had lost a lot of blood," Kris Kim said. "He needed a blood transfusion."
The next morning, doctors determined he was bleeding internally. Scans and X-rays indicated that Tony Kim had a large ulcer, so physicians performed emergency surgery to remove part of his stomach.
Afterwards, a surgeon came out to speak with his wife.
"I couldn't comprehend what he was saying, but I knew he said cancer," Kris Kim said. "It just wouldn't absorb."
Doctors had found and removed a baseball-size tumor from Tony Kim's abdomen.
"They were surprised he survived," Greer said.
After a week in recovery, Tony Kim was allowed to go home. However, the cancer that was spreading through his body made him too frail to work, so the Kims were forced to close Tony's Shoe Repair in the Pineville Plaza shopping center.
The couple initially pursued traditional cancer treatments, including chemotherapy, but later turned to alternative therapies such as acupuncture and juicing. As a result, Kris Kim said, her husband was happy, productive and pain-free for nearly two years after initially receiving a prognosis of six months to live.
"Tony was a walking miracle," Greer said. "He never complained, was never sour or resentful."
Last April, Tony Kim's younger brother, Dong Chae “Tony” Kim, moved to Winchester and reopened Tony's Shoe Repair. Since the brothers had the same nickname, the younger Tony didn't even have to change the name of the store.
The younger Tony now owns the business, but he gives most of the shop's revenues to help with the elder Tony's medical bills.
Tony's Shoe Repair remains busy, with customers frequently asking about Tony Kim. Many patrons even passed along greeting cards, homemade brownies and special gifts for the Kim family.
"We had customers walk in who would just hand us whatever was in their pocket to help with our expenses," Kris Kim said.
However, earning that level of love and devotion had required Tony and Kris Kim to make many personal sacrifices. For more than 30 years, Kris Kim said, they were so busy with work and family that they forgot to be a couple.
"I was really blessed that God gave him two more years to be with me," Kris Kim said as a smile came to her face. "We had two years to talk and make up for all the time we didn't get to spend together."
In December, the couple started planning a trip to Florida to visit Kris Kim's mother.
"But he said, 'Let's wait until February when it warms up a little bit,'" Kris Kim said.
When February arrived, Tony Kim started feeling weak again. Dramatic drops in his blood sugar levels sent him to the hospital on two occasions.
He was home with his family on the evening of Feb. 14 when he quietly drew his final breath.
Even as she grieves, Kris Kim said she can't help but feel grateful for the dozens of people in the community who showed kindness and compassion to her and her husband, and whose loyalty to Tony's Shoe Repair never wavered.
"It's just amazing," she said. "He put love in people's hearts."
Rachel, who hopes to attend college in Richmond this fall, couldn't help but smile Saturday as she recalled the last bit of fatherly advice she received from her dad.
"He said, 'Rachel, you stay sweet like you always were, but don't kiss anybody's butt,'" she said with a laugh. "That was dad."
Services for Dong Chu “Tony” Kim will be held on March 7 at Omps Funeral Home, 1600 Amherst St. in Winchester. Visitation will be at 2 p.m., followed by a funeral at 4:30 p.m. Online condolences can be posted at ompsfuneralhome.com.