Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Shoe Repair Shop Revival

Today may be February 4, but I just got around to reading my February 2 copy of the Wall Street Journal. (It's a long story as to why I have a subscription to the Wall Street Journal.)
There is an article in this February 2 issue that makes me happy! I know, good news from the business world these days?
The article tells us that there is a shoe repair boom; "a new lease on life to the tiny shoe-repair industry, which has been shrinking". In these rough economic times people are re-discovering the old shoe repair, otherwise known as cobbler shops to re-heel high heels, resole boots and polish up oxfords. "Nation-wide, cobblers and their suppliers report markedly higher revenues than a year ago, as newly frugal Americans opt to repair their shoes rather than replace them."
I consider shoe repair an old fashioned business, and like an old fashioned business, generally the skill, equipment and store-front is passed on from generation to generation. The younger generation, due to lack of interest and lack of business had been closing up many of the old corner shops and moving on to other careers. Just try and find a shop in your town. However, those businesses that remain today are flush with new customers, many of whom have never been inside a shoe repair shop. I am happy that so many are re-discovering the glories of a shoe repair shop.
As a child, I used to accompany my mother or father into the dark, tiny shops with their wooden cubby holes full of people's shoes, each with a large manila claim tag. I loved the smell of leather and shoe polish that immediately enveloped you and also the reality of taking something worn and damaged and making it look like new again. How did they do that? Even back then, I loved the "Before" and "After" scenarios. My Mom's Jackie Kennedy style, worn out high heels would be taken in and when picked up they would have brand new heel tips. Separated leather belts and frayed suitcase handles could miraculously be glued and stitched into looking respectable again.
Penny loafers, in leather, of course, were all the rage and they regularly needed re-stitching and sprucing up. We carried them in dusty and torn and picked them up clean and shiny and practically perfect. Also, there was some fabulous fad about making clickity, tapping noises when you walked, so we had the shoe repair man attach little metal taps to the heels also. It made me feel special to click my way down the polished linoleum school hallway, my ponytail swinging side to side, like the cool girls. The affinity for shoe repair shops may be genetic. Steven, my Uncle, (even though he was only about 5 years older than me), purchased the business and contents of the local shoe repair shop in his hometown of Martins Ferry, Ohio. The owner could no longer carry on business and my uncle made a stab at learning the business. This didn't last long and he ended up with a basement full of cobble equipment. Boxes of shoe soles in various sizes, heavy iron shoe forms in sizes ranging from adorable child size to extra large, cool hammers, metal nails, and boxes of those manila claim tickets with the tear off lower portions. You could always go into Grandma's basement and play "shoe shop". In my later years I ferreted out some of the equipment that was still stored there and brought home the tiny child size metal shoe form. Anyway. The point is; LOVE shoe repair shops and glad they are popular once again.