John Novachis ran an upscale men's clothing store near the corner of 50th and France long before the area was trendy, outfitting customers ranging from high-profile Twin Cities celebrities and executives to young men buying their very first cool suits.
Between customers, Novachis would park himself on the sidewalk bench in front of his store and heartily greet passersby — whether they wanted to be greeted or not.
Over the years, the gregarious guy with the bald head and big grin became the unofficial ambassador of Edina's bustling "downtown." He also served on its business association for as long as folks can remember. He died Feb. 6 of pancreatic cancer at age 67.
"He was an enduring, lovable character," said Edina Mayor Jim Hovland, who recalls trying on clothes at the J. Novachis store over the years.
"He was candid: If it didn't look good, he would tell you," said Hovland. "If it did look good, he'd say, 'Bam!' and pump his fist. He was a great lover of life."
Novachis, son of Macedonian immigrants Bill and Christina Novachis, was born in Detroit in 1947. After graduating from high school, he served in the 101st Airborne infantry in Vietnam, where he was awarded the Purple Heart and other honors, said his son Tony Novachis.
He moved to the Twin Cities in the early 1970s, eventually landing a job at Belleson's men's clothing store, also at 50th and France. He and a partner purchased the business in 1998, said Tony Novachis. The veteran retailer later left Belleson's and opened his own men's clothing store just down the block.
During his 40-year retail career, he watched the area transform from a pleasant but ordinary business district to a high-end hub with more than 175 stores, restaurants and services.
"That corner changed dramatically, and he was there for the whole thing," said Hovland.
Vietnam left an indelible mark on Novachis, said his son. The veteran kept framed photos of himself with close infantry buddies on the wall of the store, along with other photos of friends, customers and family members.
"This was a small family business, and the pictures share that family feel," said Tony Novachis.
At his memorial service last month in Edina, one of his Vietnam buddies joked how Novachis' future calling as a men's clothier was apparent even in the jungle.
While most soldiers simply stuffed their fatigues into their duffel bags during frequent moves, Novachis neatly folded his — and he looked far better for it.
Novachis' passion for fashion defined him. He "dressed to the nines" even at home, said Tony Novachis. Even if he was mowing the lawn, Novachis would wear nice slacks and Italian sandals "that cost hundreds of dollars."
The retailer brought that aesthetic to his volunteer work at the 50th and France Business Association, said Rachel Thelemann, executive director of the association. He not only served on committees and the board for years — and recruited new members — but he was among the advocates for attractive street landscaping, tasteful holiday lighting and parking ramps tucked behind the buildings rather than out front.
"He knew everyone by name," said Thelemann. "He not only brought people together, but made them feel welcome."
The legacy of his work will continue at the J. Novachis store, said Tony Novachis, who will now run the business.
Novachis is survived by his wife, Kelly; children Tony, Matt and Amy, and his grandchildren.