Things I wonder about…shoe repairmen

I was at our local shoe repair shop recently. I bought a new purse (which is a big deal as this happens once a decade!) and needed the strap permanently shortened. I was intrigued by the concept of shoe repair.

I can’t remember the last time I had shoes repaired but it’s been decades. The shoes I wear (think geriatric) have some tough composite sole that rarely wears out. I’m more likely to get tired of them or wear out the top part.

I asked the repairman. It’s a small shop in a small city. There are only three in my area total. Compare that to 87,000 pizza shops. We have more golf courses!

He gets about 40 pair of shoes a day. I was stunned. He was a stereotypical (if that still exists) shoe guy. He looked Italian-ish and some sort of unidentifiable middle age. Somewhere between 40 and 80 (but not an old 80).

Noticing my astonishment, he said that it’s mostly suits and heels. It took me a while but he was referring to the men who wear suits (doctors, lawyers, Indian chiefs) and women who wore heels, the real ones – skinny stilettos or clunky heels with leather shoes. I saw rows and rows of finished shoes waiting to be picked up so I know he was telling the truth.

Most of my friends wear shoes that come under casual, inching dangerously into sneaker area. If we need to gussy up, we get cheap dress shoes which we rarely wear because they are uncomfortable (because they are cheap). He said he makes a good living.

He does an excellent job on my purses so we’re both happy. Do you get your shoes repaired?

71 thoughts on “Things I wonder about…shoe repairmen

  1. I had an absolute favorite pair of comfy and cute heels that I had re-tipped and resoled regularly. I took them in the last time and he just shook his head. It would not be worth it. I was devastated. I never had another pair resoled. I re-tipped a few more heels before I gave up on heels permanently, but I never fell in love with another pair quite that hard.

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    • I have a few I can remember but not many. My ultimate fav was a pair of high heeled burgundy boots. Couldn’t wear them today at all. I even wore them to sports events where I climbed bleachers. I don’t know how I didn’t kill myself.

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  2. About ten years ago my guy and I found a shoe repair shop in a small town near us. We were astounded when we walked in- could have been in a small Italian shoe repair shop, or one set in the 1950s. We had the same experience you did though – dozens of shoes behind his counter that were waiting for pick up. Good business. Who knew? (But we went there for my guy’s old ‘business’ leather shoes. Mine are like yours – no-heels, inexpensive, and replaceable.)

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  3. There’s a shoe repair adjacent where I get my hair done, and I always look in through the window and have wondered about it. I don’t wear expensive shoes, so I doubt it would be worth the effort to repair. In our extremely disposable-oriented society I’m glad to know there are a few shoe repair experts still making a living!

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  4. Shoes used to be made to last – and resoled. Shoe repair is a real skill – done wrong and the customer ends up losing a bit of leather and room on each side – which can make the shoes unwearable. I remember going to old shoe repair shops as a kid with my dad – smelled like saddle shops. There’s a couple of old family owned ones in town (the satellite suburban stores send shoes to those) – one of my childhood ones is still round as its’ in a well-to-do professional/expensive area of town (the land alone must be worth a fortune). Maybe they are still round because people take care of their cowboy boots and resole them for years and years. Some of the “new” expensive/trendy expensive shoes – those with the red soles – look like they would wear out if you just walked across the room – no wonder career women often wear joggers to work and carry their real shoes until at the office – you see that all the time downtown. So glad that not what I’m stuck with now – how did we manage to wear those really high heels all day long?

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    • High heels? Because we were young and sexy! Cowboy boots would be an excellent candidate for shoe repair. My Easy Spirits don’t make it. When I worked in our city and walked 6 blocks (I parked on the street for free for a few years), I carried my shoes too. You could wear out a skinny heel in a week if you didn’t. All that weight (and I was slim) on an area that was a half inch around. I always thought the shops smelled like horse barns without the horses. Lots of leather there.

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  5. 99% of the time I am in walking shoes outside, one pair of Minnetonka moosehide moccasins for outside and one pair of them for inside. That’s it. I look at my shoes from work and wonder how I fit into them. Those slim pumps or loafers – a few years ago I tried them all on again – none of them fit. Years ago, when the Earth shoe craze took everyone by storm, I was working at the diner while in college. I had been buying Nurse Mates white shoes for my uniform but switched to white Earth shoes. Mom said ‘your feet will spread wearing those stupid shoes” … decades later, between them and my current shoes, they did. When I worked on site, I had my back-and-forth-to-work low-heeled skimmers. That way I didn’t scuff and scrape the good shoes as I took the bus. So I several pair of those in different colors (Fall and Summer colors) and had them reheeled and refurbished over and over. I thought it was a great idea given the price of good shoes. The guy who owned the place originally was great used to come into the restaurant all the time – very pleasant but he retired and sold the shop to the grumpiest person I’ve ever met. He acted like he was doing you a favor and it was like pulling teeth to have a conversation with him. I wanted to wear a few of those loafers and took them to him for stretching. I looked him up on Yellow Pages for the phone number and the reviews were horrid – I thought they were exaggerating, until I went there.

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    • Feet spread over time no matter what you wear. I’m up a half size from my teenage years but I didn’t have children. That also gives you bigger feet (so they say). Old repair guys tend to be grumpier. I also have a watch repair guy. My challenge is to make him laugh. It’s really hard!

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      • My watch repair guy is old and a little odd too. I like using a cheap watch with a battery for when I’m walking or outside in the yard. The last time I needed to get a new battery it was $8.75 and I said to him “I could have gone to Meijer and bought a new watch for $15.00” — I was taken aback, they had a new store and had raised the price $2.00. He said “maybe you should do that then.” Humorless. Plus I spoke my mind to quickly I guess. I am up a half size too – good thing I never had kids as I’d be in a 9 1/2. They suggested I buy size 9 for the walking shoes for optimal room. I looked at the saleswoman and said “I’ve never worn a 9 in my life!” She said “well you need it now!” 🙂

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  6. What memories this brought back. As a kid, we would get our shoes “half-soled” when they wore down. Sometimes we had the heels replaced. I remember the special treat as teens, when we could get some heel taps. We thought we were top-notch then.

    I miss the old shops and the smells of the shoe repairman. I can’t think of a place near me.

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  7. Thanks for the memories, Kate! I can actually “smell” the interior of the shoe repair shop in my home town from the 60s as I read your post. It has been a very long, long time since I’ve taken footwear in for repair. Possibly the last time I used the service was to fix a strap on a leather back pack.

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  8. CH seems to use a shoe repairman fairly often. We found one here last summer. He has a reputation for being cranky and he was! He repaired a Croc leather sandal for CH and did a good job. I haven’t had a pair of shoes repaired in years. My Mom used to take my loafers to the shoe guy when I was in grade school and have him put metal taps on them… until the nun said no taps on wooden floors!

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    • A lot of shoes aren’t repairable, at least for resoling. I had beautiful boots that I had paid a fortune for many years back. They lasted me 20 years before the leather looked too shabby. They had a heel that had to be redone periodically. I always loved that they came back looking like new.

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  9. I don’t get my shoes repaired, but I’m glad a shoe repairman makes a good living. Like you, I don’t wear the right kind of shoes to get them repaired. But I’m concerned about all the things we throw away. We’re going to run out of places to dump them. Our electronics are a big concern. Nobody repairs them. I had to get rid of an old TV last year. It’s a big thing to throw away.

    Yesterday I bought a new kind of shampoo. It’s just a bar–no plastic bottle to throw away. I hope I’ll like it. I think I’ll stop buying liquid hand soap and just use a bar. Imagine how many plastic bottles I’ve thrown into the recycling. Does plastic recycling even work?

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    • Locally they have gotten more stringent on what we can put in plastic recycling. I’m hoping that means they actually do it. You have to let us know how you like bar shampoo. Bar soap dries my skin so I haven’t used in 30 years. Sometimes you can buy refills in a plastic bag rather than a bottle but I don’t know if that’s easier to recycle or not. You are right though. Too much stuff gets thrown out. I’ve been noticing that some clothes are made with recycled plastic bags. Interesting.

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  10. I remember the shoe repairman in the town where I grew up. His area was at the back of a shoe store. I have never had shoes repaired, but my dad did. Maybe John had some shoes resoled and re-heeled. Surely I have seen a repair shop in the last 50 years, but I can’t recall a single one. Thanks to your post, I shall be looking for one.

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  11. I’;ve never had shoes repaired but I have a pair of boots I hate to part with, and they need new soles. Someone told me about a place here that is well respected and I plan to try it before next winter. The leather shoe part is fine and the boots are so comfortable.

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  12. I was as suprised to read about a shoe repairman as you were to find one, and it was interesting to learn. I guess if I had a pair of shoes I just loved and couldn’t find them again, I’d like a shoe repair guy if it needed fixing. Sure sounds like he knows what he’s doing. 🙂

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  13. I still wear a pair of shoes that have had heels and soles replaced what must be over ten times already, are now probably over 20 years old, and amazingly still in great shape. But I haven’t had them repaired since I retired four years ago because I don’t wear them as regularly as I used to. I hope there always be shoe repairs. – Marty

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  14. I had heels replaced on shoes a couple of times when I was younger and wearing heels to work. Your post brought back the smell of leather and polish quite clearly. Love your description of the shoemaker too. Quite appropriate.

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  15. I have a pair of boots that need new heal taps, but I’m having difficulty finding a shoe repair place. I’ve been in the before, though, and your post recalled the distinctive smell of a shoe repair shop – leather, polish, and oldness.

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    • Then you are familiar with the trade. When I worked in the city, I was well known at the shoe place. I did a lot of walking. It was several blocks from my car to the office and then all around at lunch time. That doesn’t count the walking on my job.

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  16. My feet are held in the highest esteem (read I buy expensive shoes to keep them happy) and have had a two plus decades long relationship with a cobbler who’s still downtown. Back when I was working, whenever I’d go in for repairs, I’d see a gazillion heels and wondered where all those unhappy feet were trodding. I can’t think of worse torture than to cram your feet into pointy toed heels and then have to race around at double time because as a woman you had to do everything twice as fast and efficiently as your male counterparts (at least in the legal biz). I shudder just thinking about it.

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  17. When I wore pumps for work I got them repaired. I occasionally take a pair of loafers to be re-heeled, but other than that I don’t often go to the shoe repair place. I have a friend who wears Birks daily [for work] and she gets hers resoled on a regular basis. Interesting topic, Kate.

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    • Back in the day when I wore heels and the soles were leather, I had my shoes repaired frequently. I rarely see leather shoes. My purse looks like leather but it’s a synthetic. I like it better because it’s a good looking substitute and somehow it is as lightweight as a fabric bag. In “researching” for this post, I checked my shoe bottoms. I occasionally wear the sole pattern flat but I don’t have a single pair with substantial wear on the bottom. Now my fabric sneakers occasionally get worn by the toes or where the foot bends. I didn’t think you could get Birks resoled. I learn something every day.

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  18. I had some shoes repaired recently as they came unstuck. The sole parted company with the upper. I think most high streets here have a shoe repairer. They usually cut keys,engrave dog discs and fit watch batteries as well.

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  19. I have a pair of boots I love and the sole needed replaced on one. I searched everywhere for another pair, but of course these were 25 years old already. I finally found a shoe repair guy for our area online. Had to drop my boots off at a package mailing store. He picked them up and resoled and put new heels on both. Even shined them up and put in new laces. He dropped them back off two weeks later at the store. Such an ordeal! But it was worth it. He did a great job and the cost was about $42.
    You are right…It’s a lost art!
    ~Elle

    Liked by 1 person

    • There are three I can drive to and the wait (at least for a purse strap) was only 3 days. I don’t have any shoes that old. I have some rain boots and heavy snow boots that are at least that old. As I look at my shoes, I don’t have any that I would do a major repair on but you never know. Sometimes it’s not about replacing a sole but some minor thing.

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  20. We live in a society where articles are manufactured relatively inexpensively, but labor rates are quite high. Business survival generally dictates that a lower cost is achieved by replacing an item, rather than the labor costs of fix/repairing. Even the “car business” tends to be replace rather than fix. It is just economics.

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    • You hit the nail on the head. Unless I had a very expensive pair of shoes I wouldn’t bother to repair unless it was a small thing. The purse strap fix was $10. I got the purse on sale for less than $50 so proportionally it’s an expensive strap compared to the intricate (think pockets and zippers) construction of the purse. However, I have to do that on all my purses as I don’t like them hanging around my knees!

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