Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Cobbling against the Recession

While we used to have a good cobbler in my very small city (80,000), he became less and less reliable in his hours and in his completion time and now seems to have decamped completely. So I drop my shoes-in-need-of-rehab off now at a downtown Vancouver branch of what I think is a franchised operation, and then take advantage of Pater's good nature, getting him to pick them up and schlepp them home for me. The branch seems to be run by an immigrant family and they do a great job cheerily and efficiently with speedy turnaround times.

The round-toe, flat boots above have covered hundreds of kilometres of pavement and kept me comfortable while they did so, BUT I couldn't help be disappointed that at almost $300, they were still breaking down too early -- the top of the shoe was lifting from the sole all along the right toe-to-instep. They were otherwise too good for me to consider chucking them out, so I practised the economy of spending -- $60 for the two pair repaired the tearing leather, got me new soles on both pairs of boots, new heels and tidied-up pointy-toes on the stilettos.
I hear people talk about buying pairs of shoes for $60 or even getting two pair for $60, but those shoes are often unlikely able to be repaired. Both these pairs of boots, though, are in their fourth year of service -- I still enjoy wearing them and can't see being tired of the style in the next two years at least, so spending a bit more on them was my kind of frugality.

Chatting with the cobbler when we dropped the shoes off, I asked him how the recession was affecting business. Turns out, as might be expected, that if you want a recession-proof business, you should learn to cobble! He said that a year ago, 80% of his business was working on new shoes whereas now 5% of his business is new, the rest older shoes needing refurbishment. Apparently, when the economy is good, people buy new shoes and need to have leather soles protected or given traction, the soft heel rubber replaced with a denser, longer-lasting heel, the tightness relieved by a good stretching. But when the economy is poor, since people still need to walk around, the cobbler continues to be busy, working instead on keeping soles hole-free and heels looking as spiffy as possible.
Speaking of spiffy, don't you love that great polish your shoes wear when they return from visiting the cobbler?


  1. I'm with you: buy good shoes and get them "tuned up." I have a pair of Stuart Weitzman ankle boots that are on their fourth year, and still going strong, thanks to some new heels and half soles.

  2. I think that it's also much greener to have your shoes repaired than keep buying more, when you look at the cost of production of shoes, flying the in from china or wherever they're made and the effect that has on greenhouse gases!

  3. Absolutely, Imogen, and beyond the green-ness, there's the comfort factor of being able to keep wearing and enjoying shoes once they've been worn in.

  4. I spent £30 getting a new zip put in my favourite boots they made a superb job of it and have given an expensive but comfy pair of boots a new lease of life. Unlike you we are cobbler rich here, ours multitask by cutting keys and engraving.
    Regarding what other colour to wear with your black and white patterned dress, I have noticed a particularly lovely ice/sky blue being worn with black and white on this weeks catwalk. It looks lovely and may be a little less harsh than yellow.

  5. Sadly I can't remember the last time I had a pair of shoes cobbled. By the time my shoes wear out I'm usually sick of them, I think I need to change my attitude to fit the recession!

  6. I actually enjoy polishing shoes!

    I'd advise a young person who wants a good job to learn this trade.

    Always wondered about stretching leather; they must moisten it and apply forms. But there has to be a limit. See if he'll tell you.

  7. Alison: Our cobblers also often offer key-copying services and there are plenty in Vanc'r. Not all are equal, though, in my experience, and it's important to find one you trust with a good shoe. I can see how an ice blue could be lovely with that dress -- I did pick up a grey-and-soft-yellow striped long cardigan on the weekend, inspired by you!
    Cybill: Right now, I have a core wardrobe of shoes that I can't imagine getting sick of and those are the ones I like to repair. Depends how much walking one does as well, I think, and I do a lot!
    Duchesse: I agree with the career advice -- in fact, it seems a parent could do worse than help a youngster invest in a cobbling franchise. As for the stretching, some shoe stores will even offer this service overnight--they stretch them on an adjustable last, apparently, and they sell a product you can spray on yourself and wear the shoes around the house for an hour or two at a time to stretch them out yourself. I've only tried it once with limited success but one of my daughters swears by it.

  8. Tried the spray on shoe-stretch product and did not find it worked- I suspect just getting you to wear them for awhile stretches them :)

  9. OH cobblers are wonderful and I have always relied on them to extend the life of my favorite shoes. Mine is busier now than he had been for some time. There is a shortage of good cobblers around here and I don't think he does keys either. To tell the truth I have always been amazed at people who threw their shoes out, but I suppose it depends on the shoes one buys.

    My DH, a child whose family was displaced in WWII always said that his father insisted he learn a tradel no matter what else he chose to do in life. He felt a talented barber, cobbler or tailor/seamstress would always get by. We both continue to think he was a wise man.

    When I was little my dad would pay us a nickel to polish his shoes. When I was a little older I also got payed for perfectly pressed shirts. He was very picky and only paid for perfection. I would line up my dolls and pretend I had to take in ironing to feed them all.

    I sill enjoy ironing and shoe-polishing.

  10. My cobbler is great and has managed near-impossible repairs of favorite shoes. I hope he's busy so he'll stay in business.

    Oh, and I've nominated you for an award on my blog. Mwah!

  11. The place I go to also mends leather jackets, purses, luggage, even my Dayrunner. Couldn't live without this guy.

  12. Thanks for stopping by, Shay, and welcome! You're so lucky to have a great cobbler -- they're really indispensable.


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