“If the shoes fits”……repair it!!

101-2365_Shoe_Repair_George_20141108-38“Those were the days my friend, we thought they’d never end, we’d sing and dance forever and a day…” are just a couple of the chorus lines from the song that Mary Hopkins sung and made famous back in 1968. If we take a look back to 1968, it was such a different time and place in our society’s history. The unemployment rate was 3.8%, the cost of a gallon of gasoline was 34 cents, you could buy your favorite song on a 45 record from the corner drug store, and when the bottoms of people’s shoes wore out…almost everyone had them repaired! Since then, shoe repair businesses, as well as, many other traditional businesses slowly but surely have gone by the wayside.

‘Shoe-makers or cobblers’ as they would become better known, had been in the business of repairing, restoring, and reviving all kinds of men’s, women’s, and children’s shoes for years. Even prior to the 1960’s, these artisans actually created many peoples shoe’s hence, earning them a more common name – “shoe-makers’.

I was fortunate enough to visit one of these local businesses who continue to carry-on the tradition of repairing people’s shoes. As you walk into the store you’re, greeted by a chipper gentleman named George. George has a quick wit and a great personality. Your senses are immediately drawn to stores surroundings. The sights and smells of the leather mixed with the different type of adhesives and the various dyes that he uses in the repair process permeate the air.

His business continues to thrive, even though we live in such a disposable society. Many of today’s shoes, unfortunately he is unable to repair, mainly due to the materials they are made from and the type construction. Shoes that are made from rubber or canvas in most cases may not be repairable, or for that matter, it may be cost prohibitive for the repair. However, premium world grade leather shoes like, Salvatore Ferragamo, Santoni, Allen Edmonds, Gucci, Magli, Johnston & Murphy, and Alden are just some of the top brands that he might have come across from time to time. (Just to note, a men’s pair of Santoni’s can cost upwards of $850 a pair!) The more common and more mainstream types, which he might see for repair, are Florshien, Cole Han, and Prada. Interesting enough, he has many firefighters and police employees who bring their work shoes in for repair. This makes perfect sense, as they are quality made shoes as well.

As he continued to escort me though his store, we continued his tour, and he explained what many of the various machines were used for. As you might expect, he does have his standard workbench and hand tools used for most of his repairs. A shoe stand, used to prop the shoes in place, while he pries, cuts, glues, or hammers. On the right side of his workbench, I saw something that caught my eye. I noticed a small container oozing huge amounts of this stringy substance. After closer examination, I observed it was a bottle of adhesive. However, from removing and replacing the brush so frequently, over a period of time, it created something that had the appearance of mini ‘white-volcano’, spewing white lava. Next to his workbench, he has his inventory of various sized soles, heels, and leather pieces which he uses for most of his repairs.

There are other machines of various sizes, strategically placed throughout the store that are the additional tools of his trade. One particular machine was his “shoe press”. Once the soles (or heels) are glued into position, he places these inserts onto the arms of the shoe press. He then places these ‘arms’ into the shoes, then clamps the arms down, creating pressure until the glue dries overnight. He has some other vintage shoe presses that he no longer uses. These had the ability to connect to an electrical wall outlet, which would allow them to heat the shoes and the adhesive, while applying pressure as well. Next to these, were two other types of machines. Once the soles, leather pieces, or heels were glued into place and dried, any overlapping portion needs to be removed. The first machine was known as a ‘nubber’. This ‘nubber’ is used to remove the larger amount of excess material, then the shoes can be transferred to the second machine, the ‘trimmer’. This trimmer is used for the finer detail work and removal before the final sanding and buffing. This trimming, is not as easy as it looks. The shoes have to be held in the correct position on the machine at all times, otherwise too much material gets removed, or the shoes could get damaged. I watched as he continued to work on a few of these repairs, and how careful he was in removing the excess material. Behind his workbench, was a lighted heat-box that allowed him place a shoe onto a holder inside the box. He had 3-floodlight high intensity lights, to heat or softens the shoes to make them more pliable and easier to work with. These worked great for removing the rubber soles for repairing or replacement. There were also some upright heavy-duty stitching machines, for the larger boots and leather items.

There were two old fashioned Singer sewing machines for the more delicate items. We discussed what some of the more difficult challenges that he’s encounter. Many times he is asked to dye and match the bridesmaid shoes to their dresses-another difficult task. In most instances, the materials absorb the dyes differently, making it extremely difficult to match to the dresses.

One final piece of history that he shared with me was that he had two shelving racks that were salvaged from a Brockton shoe factory and given to him. These rack date back close to a 100 years! Ironically, during the roaring 20’s, Brockton became known as the shoe manufacturing capital of the world. I guess it’s fitting that such items should remain in business where they can continue to be used, appreciated, and keep the traditions intact.

 

 

 

 

 

Comments

  1. Very interesting place Sal. I used shoe repair services many times in my childhood and youth and know these places reasonably well although the ones I knew were much smaller places.

    Cemal

  2. Sal, you have an ear for a good story, and an even better eye for a great photo!

    Aaron

  3. J S Turner says:

    I like it Sal. I remember the cobbler down the street from my Mom and Dad’s. On a side note he was also a “bookie”. Also, my grandfather on my father’s side emigrated here from England. His occupation was “cobbler”. I don’t remember him as he died when I was 3 or 4 I think? Anyway, very nicely photographed accompanied by informative descriptions. Bravo!

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