There is a certain very distinctive atmosphere that is part and parcel of a shoe repair shop, that takes me back in time.
I’ve been in shoe repair stores for a large portion of my life. I had flat feet and needed special shoes and special inserts, so I’d have to go to the cobbler to have the wedge inserted and the heel modified. The shoes themselves were a particular orthopedic style (which cause me no small amount of unhappiness and teasing when I was younger) with a steel arch. The shoes were expensive, so there was a need to be able to re-sole and re-heel them on a periodic basis that my friends with tennis shoes and docksiders didn’t have to worry about.
Time has moved on, the orthopedic shoe stores are now gone, and I’ve been reduced to going with standard off-the-shelf shoes from a generic big-box shoe warehouse store. My newest shoes needed a quick repair on a heel –the heel was hollow, surprisingly. I’d worn through the thin portion of the heel that covered the void, exposing the opening. The problem with the void was it made sounds when I walked, and was constantly picking up rocks. So I opted for a quick trip to the local cobbler.
I went to King’s Cobbler in the King Contrivance Village Center.
Walking in, I was immediately aware of the look, the smell, the atmosphere of the store. Clearly a cobbler live here. The air was rich with the odor of warm polish and glue. Small piles of shoes, some paired and some not, lay in various parts of the store, waiting for the next task or the next phase of their re-creation. Ahead of me were the equipment of the trade, a craft which despite the years and increased automation in other fields still relies on manual labor, personal skill, and …. equipment that probably hasn’t been built since FDR (okay, likely a bit of hyperbole there, but it certainly looks o-l-d).
It caused me to think back to the days when a cobbler existed in every nearly every mall, every shopping center. We used to go to the cobbler regularly, working to glean a little more life and time out of our shoes before they had to be replaced. I remember having shoes re-soled five or six or more times. Heels were done even more frequently because of the orthopedic issues of how I walked and wore the heels out.
Those days seem to be gone. Cobblers are not very common anymore, and there seems to be little interest in the millennials to take on the trade craft. More significantly, the big box shoe stores sell shoes that have little to no leather or repairable materials in them. My last pair of Rockports were not repairable because of the synthetic material employed in the sole. It’s unfortunate that the materials we use aren’t repairable and that the skills needed for repair are themselves becoming endangered.
Time, and society, move on. Shoes no longer repairable, and no one who can repair them. Chicken and egg. But at least in this case I have an idea which came first — unrepairable shoes.
At least I was able to support both the craft of the cobbler and a local business this time 🙂