Tuesday, December 04, 2012

The Shoe Repair Guy

I always love going to my local shoe repair guy. I've used a few different ones over the years, whoever was closest to my office or home at the time. I love their cramped little storefronts full of random shoes, laces, polish, watchbands and other cheap items. These places are usually rather filthy and old-- their cash flow doesn't allow for snazzy renovations, and all the dust and shoe polish settle in and give things a permanent layer of grunge. I've found that the men who run these shops tend to be Greek or Russian, big gruff guys with enormous, permanently blackened hands. It's kind of amazing to me that these big hands can handle tiny delicate things like the pins in watch bands more dextrously than my skinny little fingers can.
I love these shops because to me they represent the epitome of a certain kind of old-fashioned frugality. They are all about re-using things, re-building things, refurbishing things so you can use them for many more years without having to buy new ones. I have shoes that I have been wearing for decades because I've had heels and soles replaced and repaired. Shoes just stay in better condition if you have them polished once in a while, and if you don't let the soles wear down too much. And the better the shoes you start off with, and the better you care for them, the more life a cobbler can squeeze out of them.
I remember having a weird feeling of pride when I handed a pair of loafers over to have new heels put on. The cobbler turned them over and over in his hands, examining them from every angle and prodding at them. He sort of grunted, "huh, English heels," and shot me a look. "You want I replace like that? It's more expensive." I said that was ok, and he asked me a couple of times if I was sure. Then he started scolding me that I'd let the shoes get too creased on the top of the foot. He said I should have been keeping them on wooden shoe stretchers the whole time so they'd keep their shape. I think it was almost offensive to him that someone wouldn't take the very best care of a good pair of shoes.
The other day, I went to a different guy with a watch that needed some links removed from its bracelet. Again, the man took my watch, turned it over and over in his hands, checking it out, nodding. Then he asked if I'd bought it. I said yes, thought technically I hadn't as it had been a gift from Sweetie, though we picked it out together. Then the guy asked how much I'd paid for it. I said a couple hundred dollars, which was roughly true, and represented a pretty good discount off the MSRP. He just grunted and went to work on the band. I was dying to know why he'd asked-- did he think it was nice and I'd gotten a good deal? Did he think it was a piece of crap and I'd gotten ripped off? (It was a Seiko, so not one of these fashion brand watches that just have a name slapped on them, but not a fancy Swiss watch either.)
After that watch was fixed, I also had him change the band on another watch, a cheap Timex I'd bought online thinking its red band would look cute, although it turned out to be ugly in reality. The band was still like new and I asked him to replace it with a black one. After putting the new band on, he asked if I wanted him to put the clasp back on the old band. I said I didn't even want the old band, knowing I'd never wear it. For all I cared, he could keep it or throw it out. But I could tell he really wanted me to take it, and he said, "you never know, you might want it. You could have it dyed black."
It would never in a million years have occurred to me to dye a watch band a different color, but I just loved that "waste not, want not" mentality.
I ended up paying $22 dollars for the watch band and the links being adjusted. That actually kind of seemed like a lot of money, but I haven't bought a leather watchband in a while, so maybe it's perfectly reasonable... but either way, it seemed a small price to pay for a pleasant reminder of a way of life that seems to be disappearing in today's culture of disposability...


Kizz said...

I recently lost my watch and it's killing me. I know it must be in my kitchen somewhere but WHERE? It's the only one I wear and it's probably almost 15 years old. Bought it from The VT Country Store for around $40 and I just keep replacing the band (Central Watch in Grand Central is my go to now). I love that watch, why would I let a little thing like a band convince me to let it go?

Connecticut Blogger said...

I agree, going to a cobbler seems like a step back in time, but i love it too.

RichC said...

Loved taking shoes to be soled or repaired too ... it has been a long time though. :-(

Q: "Fancy Swiss Watch" ... sort of wonder if there are "Swiss" watches that aren't considered hoytie toytie for those of us just appreciating fine craftsmanship?

OC Budget Living said...

I am not a shoe person but I do have a couple of pairs that were bought around $50-80 range.

At that price point, I wonder if it's even worth it to repair the heels (i scruff up my heels very easily for some reason)

I love little corner shops like that...the only shop that i visit that is like that is the tailoring shop; it's hard to find plus size petite pants!

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ahhhsoNeo said...

I regularly take my shoes and bags to cobblers. It's the best value out there, for less than $20 they can make a pair of shoes look brand new again... and it's cheaper than buying a brand new pair of shoes that would probably set me back $100s. Good post.

Liz@CASH1Loans said...

I loved this post! Although I do not go to a cobbler I religiously go to a tailor, which has recently become MY tailor!I just love him. He is a well dressed older Italian man that knows his stuff! I am only 5'2 with extremely short legs and I just cant believe some people (with similar built) never go to a tailor. It may not seem like going to a tailor is a step back in time like going to a cobbler, but from what I see some people forget they exist!!!

Unknown said...

After reading your post, it made me want to try and go to a shoe repair shop in Chicago. I went and I found the experience quite wonderful. My shoes are about brand new, and I didn't have to get a new set of shoes! Thanks for sharing.