John Novachis, owner of the J. Novachis better men’s specialty store in Edina, Minnesota, has died after a battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 67.
Novachis, born in 1947, grew up in Detroit, the son of Macedonian immigrants. He deferred college when he was drafted in 1968. He served in the Vietnam War for two years as a sergeant in the 101st Airborne. He was awarded a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star, among other honors. Novachis followed the woman he would later marry to Minneapolis and worked odd jobs until he was hired in 1971 at Belleson’s in Edina, a Minneapolis suburb. He worked there for nearly thirty years before he and a partner bought the store in 1999. Novachis left Belleson’s about eight years ago to open his own, more contemporary store—just down the street.
Shortly after the diagnosis of stage IV pancreatic cancer came in March, 2014, Novachis asked his son, Anthony, what they should do with the business. Anthony wanted to keep the store in the family, so he tied up the loose ends in his own, unrelated business and began working with his father in the store. Father and son went on a buying trip together last July in New York and Chicago during the ownership transition.
Novachis was known for his edgy style and cheerful profanity. “My dad would love to sit on a bench out in front of the store chatting with people,” recalls Anthony. “A stranger would walk by, and he’d say, ‘Good f**king morning!’ And the woman would stop in her tracks, look at him, and go, ‘Good f**king morning!’ and keep walking. He just had that way of complete genuineness that when most people would get punched in the teeth, for him, it worked.
“His style was always his own. In 1975 he was wearing double-breasted pin stripe Italian suits with a big fur overcoat, a cowboy hat and a feather. No one else could pull it off. He was always ahead of the curve and he dragged people along. But after having what I call the “Pretty Woman for men” experience with him at his store, his customers would walk taller.”
Novachis was close to many other retailers, including Tim Sitzmann Midwest Clothiers and Mr. B in Des Moines, Iowa. “We have been very good friends for about ten years,” said Sitzmann. “We used to talk four or five days a week after our stores closed—he worked alone for a while after he opened J. Novachis and we liked to share stories. He was always noticed wherever he went. He used to wear ties with a knot two to three times the size of anyone else’s and people would say at the shows, ‘Who’s the guy with big knot?!’ Then he was the guy in the double-breasted jacket when everyone was wearing single-breasted coats. He always wanted to be ahead. He gave me the strength to do fashion when I didn’t know how to do it and I think I helped him do basics when he needed more in his store.”
Natalie Hagemo, who profiled Novachis in several local stories, wrote of his recently receiving a “Merchant of Distinction” award from Edina’s 50th and France Association, “John Novachis is a very humble man, one who may not have shown up if he knew what was in store for him with such an acknowledgement. Edina Mayor Jim Hovland shared with the crowd about the impact that John has had on the 50th and France community through his support of local events and projects.”
Hagemo noted in the same article, “Before John’s diagnoses he was one of the most positive people I knew. After his diagnoses he continues to be just that.”
Novachis is survived by his wife, Kelly; sons, Tony (Natalie), Matt (Madeline); daughter, Amy (Emily); grandchildren, Miles, Dominic, Otto, Mason; sister, Chrisanti along with many other family members and friends.
A celebration of life is scheduled for tomorrow, Saturday, February 14 at 11am at the Edina Country Club, 5100 Wooddale Ave, Edina. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that memorials be given to Disabled American Veterans, PO Box 14301, Cincinatti, OH 45250.
An obituary appeared in the Minneapolis Star Tribune on February 8.