To some people, a cobbler is a lovely fruit dessert best served warm. To others, it is a shoemaker who repairs shoes — an almost forgotten trade. But that's changing. Suddenly, shoe repair is coming back. Big time.
Sales of luxury goods are down, but it's a good time for people who repair them. Many high-end cobblers, tailors and jewelers have seen a spike in business from frugal customers, thanks to a trend toward fixing goods rather than replacing them. We're quickly moving from a disposable society to one that's learning to mend and make do.
According to Randy Lipson, third-generation cobbler and owner of Cobblestone Shoe Repair in St. Louis, Missouri, shoe-repair shops nationwide (of which there are reportedly only about 7,500 remaining — half as many as a decade ago) are reporting a 20 to 45 percent surge in business. Things are beginning to shift as consumers are learning to make do. And for many, that means getting shoes that fit fixed.
Not long ago, I seized an opportunity to sit down with Lipson and I learned a lot, not only about the value of repairing shoes rather than replacing them, but also the fact that a shoe-repair shop does more than just repair shoes.
EC: Why should we use shoe repair?
RL: Footwear isn't just part of your wardrobe; it is an investment. Spend your money wisely and the return will be more value for your dollar, more comfort, better foot health and even a sense that you are helping the environment.
EC: How do we know if shoes are worth repairing? If they were cheap to start with, shouldn't we just throw them away?
RL:?Think comfort. If the shoes fit well, you're probably better off repairing them. The materials we use to repair shoes are usually three to four times better quality than the original materials in the shoe. And we use the very same materials to repair a $50 pair of shoes and a $325 pair. Once repaired, they really will be better than new. We repair all kinds of shoes and boots, even Birkenstocks.
EC: How can we know if a shoe-repair shop is any good?
RL: Ask to see an example of their work. A good cobbler is proud of the work he or she does. There should be lots of shoes waiting to be picked up that you can inspect.
EC: What are the typical shoe repairs?
RL: New heels and soles are what we do most, both for men's and women's shoes. And we do a complete recondition that includes repairing torn or weakened areas, replacing components that are worn-out and bringing those shoes back to their glory.
EC: Can you do anything to restore the color and finish?
RL: Provided the shoes are made of leather, we can do wonders. And we do more than just apply shoe polish. What we do is similar to stripping the paint from a fine piece of furniture and then completely refinishing it. We remove the top layers, then recondition the leather, restain and return the shoes to new condition.
EC: What does something like that cost?
RL: A simple repair, like for new heels, can run around $20 depending on where the shop is located. A complete recondition can run as high as $100. But if we're talking about a $300 pair of shoes, that's a great value because it means another 10 or 15 years for those shoes. When you think of the cost per wear, repairing shoes rather than replacing them becomes a great value. They're even better than new.
EC: Other than shoes, what items do you repair?
RL: We offer repairs on handbags, luggage, dog collars, belts (we shorten belts all the time, in a way that cannot be detected), and saddles and bridles, too. If you have anything made of leather that needs some TLC, take it to a shoe repair shop.
EC: Where can we find reputable shoe repair shops in our local areas?
RL: You can find a national store locator on the Shoe Service Institute of America website. Just type in your location and you'll be on your way!
A question to you, my readers: Do you know of a great shoe repair shop? Tell us about it! Give a shout out to your friendly neighborhood cobbler!
Mary invites questions, comments and tips at [email protected], or c/o Everyday Cheapskate, 12340 Seal Beach Blvd., Suite B-416, Seal Beach, CA 90740. This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of www.DebtProofLiving.com, a personal finance member website and the author of "Debt-Proof Living," released in 2014. To find out more about Mary and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.