There's nothing like a comfortable pair of shoes. In time, these well-worn and favorite friends, as much as we don't want to admit, need to be replaced. In the disposable society in which we live, we might think this is our only choice. But is it? Think back to another time when it was a common practice to do something else with your shoes. Yes, there were shoe repair shops. At one time in the 1940s in Dunkirk alone, there were more than six. Even 20 years ago, there were about 11 shops in approximately a 50-mile radius in our surrounding area. Now there are only two. This is good news however because shoes and more can be saved and refurbished. At the same time we are supporting a local business and contributing to making a positive economic impact in our own communities, a theme addressed in prior columns.
Historically, cobblers were traditionally known as the craftsmen trained in shoe making and repair. Beginners were most often apprentices to skilled cobblers, with the trade frequently passed down family lines. In the old days, fine leather shoes were resoled and lasted many years which is amazing considering people may have only had a couple of pairs, unlike the large collections that people have in current times. According to the Shoe Service Institute of America, today there are about 7,000 shoe repair shops across the nation compared to 120,000 during the Depression.
Although a dying art, good shoes can be repaired at one of these few shops, and fortunately it can be done right in Westfield. Tony's Shoe Repair and Sales is one of the two in our area, run by Anthony Franchina III, a third generation cobbler. The other shop is in Jamestown, run by Tony's father, with roots from Tony Sr. begun many years ago in 1947. Tony of Westfield is one of the youngest sole proprietors in the United States.
The “Big Stitcher” is the backbone of the shoe repair shop. Two machines in the shop have been sewing on soles for years in Tony’s Shoe Repair and Sales in Westfield.
So what's to be found in a contemporary shoe repair shop? For starters, there are scores of shoes in the process of getting a renewed life. Interesting tools help do the work in Tony's shop including an 80 year-old lathe with a sander, cutter, and shiner. There is a shoe anvil that could be as old as 100 years and two "monster" stitching machines dating back to 1928 and 1960. These are known as the "backbone" of the repair shop. In days gone by, these machines were repaired by skilled and traveling mechanics. Now they are repaired by the owners of the shops themselves.
The 1906 cash register is just one more piece that lends to the nostalgia. From other items in the shop, it is evident that more than shoes are repaired. Tony can order almost any variety of shoes with access to many manufacturers, make orthopedic lifts and repair such things as luggage, baseball gloves, zippers, horse tack, leather jackets, purses, boat covers, tents, and snowmobile or motorcycle seats. Like other small businesses, versatility and diversity lend to strength as the shop has expanded into embroidery of clothing with custom logos and screen printing.
Hiking boots, stilettos, loafers, and more are lined up at Tony's. If it is a favorite and comfortable shoe, it can be repaired for a longer life. As his motto says, "Let me give your old shoes a new shoe look with old shoe comfort." Another favorite says, "I will 'heel' you, save your 'sole' and 'dye' for you." All in all, it is a near one-of-a-kind local business that provides an old time and needed service approaching its 20 year anniversary this October. As a family, the service has been running for 65 years. Keep our local businesses running by choosing to purchase their services and goods. It can make a positive difference.
Make it a good week and have your favorite shoes repaired, Mary and Rosamond
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