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Gunshot's fearsome echoes drive merchant from store

The Brooksville woman was not seriously wounded by the robber, but she is tormented by the memories.

[Times photo: Douglas R. Clifford]
Marti Schick, helps Ryan Brown at her store, Sneeker's, in Brooksville.

By JAMIE MALERNEE

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 31, 2000


BROOKSVILLE -- Marti Schick has been in the shoe business a long time. Long enough that many of the children she first fitted for sneakers now come into her store with their own tykes.

But after 23 years at 636 W Jefferson St., which 15 years ago she changed from a clothing store to Sneeker's shoe store, Schick, who turns 64 today, is closing for good. She says she's tired, frightened and too disillusioned to go on after a Hernando County jury set free the man she says shot and tried to rob her nearly a year ago.

A witness testified that Dwayne Fogle was home the day of the shooting.
"It's ruined my life, my business," Schick said of the shooting, which has sent her into therapy and caused her to fear shopping in the very city she lives in. "I can't believe he got to walk. Justice is not justice."

Bushnell resident Dwayne Fogle, 22, was charged with the crime but was acquitted in January. Schick told police the two chatted about shoes for 45 minutes before she turned to walk to the cash register, heard a loud bang and felt a burning sensation on her neck. She told jurors she whirled around and saw Fogle reloading his gun. Schick begged for her life and told the man she had no money before he fled the store, she said.

But a jury acquitted Fogle after a family friend testified that Fogle could not have committed the crime because he was at home May 18, the morning of the incident.

The defense also submitted evidence that Schick changed the description of the man she said attacked her, at first saying he was black with a dark complexion, mustache and beard and later saying he was a light-skinned black man and clean-shaven. Fogle is of medium complexion, clean-shaven and has a distinguishing scar on his face that Schick never mentioned.

"All I know is he was the one. I sat there and talked to him," Schick said. "And if it wasn't him then, who was it? Why don't the police arrest him?"

Knowing that the gunman, whoever he is, is on the loose has robbed Schick of any feelings of safety, she said. She adds that some business owners might start carrying a gun after what she has been through, but she won't.

"I've got children in this store," she said. "When I pick them up and hug them, I don't want them to feel a gun on my back. That's not right. I refuse to do that."

The only alternative she sees -- closing her store -- is not an easy decision either, she said, not only because it has been such a large part of her life for more than two decades, but because it was part of her daughter's life before she died of cancer at 32.

Schick still keeps a black and white photograph on her wall of her daughter, the original owner, at the store's grand opening. Denise Meadors stands amid a crowd, smiling as she prepares to use ridiculously big scissors to cut a large ribbon stretched across the storefront. Schick said she took over the store after her daughter died as a way to hold onto her memory.

"She was my guardian angel that day (of the shooting)," Schick said.

Schick has known she would close the store for weeks now, she said, but first had to make good on her outstanding accounts and pay off the medical bills she rang up after the shooting. She still bears a faint scar where the bullet sheared the skin on the side of her neck. And although the wound was relatively minor, if it had hit a little more to the right, Schick said, she could have died.

These days, however, Schick tries to stay positive. Her store window is painted with the words "50 percent off," and many of her faithful customers, whom she knows by name, stop by for one last purchase and a quick goodbye before the store closes today. "I don't know what we're going to do without her when she's gone," said customer and friend Susan Croft, who first met Schick when she was 15 and now stops in to buy soccer shorts for her own teenager. "You've got to go to the mall if you don't go to Marti's."

Sneeker's, as the name suggests, is the only shoe store in Brooksville that carries specialty sneakers. Whether it's palm-sized Nike hiking boots for 10-month-olds or size 11 Air Jordans, which at $150 are the most expensive pair in the store and the shoes Schick's shooter tried on, Schick's got them. She also keeps sportswear in stock.

The best thing about her business, and the thing Schick says she will miss most, is the good customers and friends she made over the years. Many of them ask if she will one day open another store, but Schick is adamant she will not. All leftover stock will go in storage. Maybe one day, she said, she will bring herself to sell it off at a flea market.

In the meantime, Schick tries to look toward her new life. She concentrates on thinking about all the time she will have to spend with her children, grandchildren and her aging mother, whose pictures cover an entire wall of her small store. Old habits, however, are hard to break.

"I've got to turn another page in my life," she said, giving a brief smile as her eyes filled with tears. "But it's just not fair."

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