Friday, May 13, 2016

The Dying Craft of the Cobbler

As many of my regular readers know, my Dad owned a Shoe Repair Shop in my hometown. It was easily open for 50 years, not sure when he opened it exactly, but closed in 2000 due to his health. I just came across an article from DNA Info NY about the Dying Craft of Cobblers, which you can read HERE. It made me want to find out a bit more about this craft my Father did so well, and the fact we may not be seeing too many more of them in the future.  
I can't help take photos of Shoe Repair Shops when in New York City. I don't like to go in, as it brings back too many memories and I get a bit emotional. The glue smell when you walk in starts it immediately!  


My Dad learned the craft from another cobbler, and then bought his shop. I am not sure if it was from the prior owner or not. When I looked on the website of the Shoe Service Institute of America, it says that is the only way to learn this trade is apprentice with a current cobbler. 

The history of shoe repair is quite interesting. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) figures indicated that shoe repair workers held approximately one-half of the approximately 21,000 jobs in the leather goods industry at the end of the twentieth century. Until advancement made in the 20th century, shoes were very expensive and hard to make, sometimes taking a cobbler almost a whole day to make one pair. It seemed more economical to have your shoes repaired than buy new ones. 

Shoe Repair can be tracked all the way to the Middle Ages, but World War II (1939-1945) had a negative impact on the craft. Because of changing shoe styles, and to keep in fashion, shoes were made much cheaper, which allowed customers to purchase new, rather than repair the old pair.  
My Dad's shop did very good business for a long time. In the end, he worked with lots of men who had good shoes for repair than purchasing new ones. The sad thing is, today, many of the expensive shoes cannot be repaired. I have many pairs which I paid a decent amount of money for, and my Dad couldn't fix because they were plastic on the bottom. 
I love these vintage ads from my Dad's shop. He liked to keep things, thank goodness, and it's so fun to have them. As you can imagine from the article in DNA info NY, the rising costs of rents and keeping up a shop forces many to close down. I always loved the fact that I would pass one while in the city, it would make me smile, I hope some can still survive.  

Before you ask, yes, I do have the stamper to go with this Lucky 7 club card!  
I love this photo of my Dad working. I feel so lucky to have it, and his work was amazing. He made shoes look brand spankin' new. He was an exceptional craftsman.  
Some funny notes about my Dad's shop. He had no phone. He felt it wasn't necessary. My Mom would have to call the shop next door if she needed him for something! He never took people's names for the shoes or phone numbers. He expected them to come back on their own the following week to pick up their shoes. Needless to say, when we emptied the shop when he closed, there were lots of shoes left from customers who never came back. The majority of time it did work, and that was all that mattered to him. 

As you can see, from this photo of my Dad older in the shop, not much changed. It was also called one of the cleanest shoe repair shops ever! My Dad was very meticulous about everything. I think he really loved what he did, and that is why it showed in the craft he choose as his profession.

Computer technology for insole replacement began in late 1999 which helped create more demand for shoe repair. The method employs a computerized fitting system, which utilizes a computerized scanner to record sole measurements, including pressure points where the footstep makes the heaviest contact with the ground. The technology enabled shoe repair personnel to fit custom insoles easily through the use of the digital measuring system, at a cost of under $50 per pair.


When you think about it, shoe repair is a very green process. You keep your shoes and wear them until they cannot be fixed any longer. The Shoe Service of America website talks a bit about getting into the profession. I really hope this craft can be kept alive and well, for future generations. It is the type of work you can be very proud of, once you learn the art of it. I think after writing this post, the next time I am in the city, I will stroll in a Shoe Repair shop I come across. It will give me such a warmth inside, thinking of my Dad, and all the wonderful memories that we shared. 

Have you ever used a Shoe Repairman? Is there one in your hometown? 

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