Person of the Week
Shoe Repairman and Owner Cobblestone Shoe Repair St. Louis, Missouri
I saw that at a little old shoe repair shop we can make a big impact. You can impact somebody’s life and get someone out of pain! We are also helping to save tons of things from going into landfills every year.
1. What led you to the mission of being a shoe repairman?
Family. I’m third generation. My grandfather started this in Granite City, Illinois in the early 1900’s. My dad and his brother had shops in University City, Missouri at the beginning of 1950. We moved out to Creve Coeur in 1971. My brother and I have run our own shops since then. That’s what brought me in to this industry — family.
I learned the business on the job. I learned from my dad. I was probably eight years old when I started. My dad came home with a shoe and he said, “I’m going to show you how to sew a shoe.” This was when penny loafers were very popular. The stitching on the vamp of the shoe was hand sewn.
He brought out an awl, which is the sewing tool for shoes. He spelled it for me. He said, “This is an awl – A W L – and he showed me how to sew shoes. He paid twenty-five cents for each shoe that I hand sewed for him. This is ironic because when he retired, I gave all my hand sewing to him to do. But he never got paid! He said, “Let me do something!” He sewed because he wanted to keep doing something.
That’s how I started at eight years old. I’m fifty-eight now. So you do the math. I’ve been doing this for fifty years.
2. What does this mission mean to you?
I love taking something that is trashed and beyond repair and restoring it to “like new” condition. People bring in things that they like. It’s just as easy to throw it away and go buy a new one. But there is either a sentimentality issue or it feels good or they like the style. Most likely we make the shoe last longer than the manufacturer. The customer likes that.
We are helping to save – I don’t know how many tons of things — from going into landfills every year. People use what I call is one of the oldest forms of recycling — repair. That’s what this whole industry is about.
3. What was your best day as shoe repairman?
A friend of mine just asked me this question recently. He asked, “You’ve done this for so long. Do you ever have a day that just sticks out?”
There was! A woman came in the store and was in a lot of pain. I said, “Let me see you walk.” She walked to the door. I watched and could tell she had one leg shorter than the other. I said, “Come here.” I put a heel lift in her shoe – not knowing the correct height that I needed. I said, “Go ahead and walk to the door again.” She walked to the door again. She turned around and came back. She was crying. I was thinking, “Oh my God! I killed the women.”
She was crying. I said, “Does it hurt?” She said, “No. It doesn’t hurt.” She said, “This is the first time that I’m walking without pain.” That was a good day.
I was thinking that I couldn’t imagine how a doctor feels when he saves somebody. It might happen over and over and over again. I guess you can become immune to it. But I don’t. This is the best day when someone is better. It’s a great story that still affects me. I saw that at a little old shoe repair shop we can make a big impact.
Yes they love the work when they walk out. They praise the way it looks. They may bring stuff for repair. That’s great. I feel good about that. You can impact somebody’s life and get someone out of pain! I do that all the time with orthotics and things like that.
I don’t know how much of a big difference I make, but I know that people like what I do and they come back. That’s great! But as far as impacting somebody’s life, helping this woman made an impact.
4. What was your worst day as shoe repairman?
One day I found out that my grandmother had died. I was at the store. We expected it. She was sick. But I found out on a phone call here at the store. I had to continue working. That was a tough day.
5. How did you survive your worst day?
I remember a woman came in that day. She was not happy with me for some reason. Maybe it was a comment I made. I can’t remember. She said, “You’re not in a very good mood” – or something like that. I said that my grandmother had just died. She felt horrible.
On other days, my dad passed down and taught me – “In one ear and out the other.” It is really simple. It’s the way that I’ve lived more of my adult life. I used to have a temper when I was a kid. You grow away from that. There is very little that a customer can do to me that is going to affect me now. Most things I deal with here are good, but every once in a while you get the opposite. This is not going to ruin my day. It is “in one ear and out the other”.
6. What advice do you have for someone who would shoe repairman?
You have to love this job. You have to love dealing with people. You have to love working your rear end off. You make a nice living. You may never retire rich, but you make a nice living. You have to love it. To me it is fun. I enjoy what I do. But it is not for everybody. I have a son and three daughters. They don’t want to go into the business. I understand that. If you don’t love this, than don’t do it. I guess that goes for any job.
If you do want to go into this business you have to find someone that is willing to train you. There are a couple of schools but they are not as good as learning on the job. You find somebody and you say, “I’m willing to work for free to learn.” Then put in the work and you will be successful.