1. How did your family get into the shoe business and what’s the history? 

My great grandfather died in 1901. My grandfather was about 3 months shy of being born. When My grandfather was 17 years old, he married my grandmother. Her uncle was a shoe cobbler in Anderson, Indiana and started his business around 1900. He took my grandfather in and trained him and by 1920 my grandfather had opened his own store in Hamilton, Ohio. Unfortunately, when he got married, they were married about 12 years his wife died when my father was only 10 years old. My father grew up in the business and knew the trade early on. I also grew up in the business playing and running around when I was a kid and, in the shop, watching all the shoe cobblers and I just learned it like learning a second language. Growing up it became easy to me by the time I was 15 years old.

2. Cobblers are few and far between these days. How are you keeping this lost art alive and training the next generation?

I was on the board that Shoe Service Institute of America for a little over 20 years and the President for three. There were about 120,000 shops in the United States around 1928 and today there’s only about 3,200. There’s a huge demand for it and there’s more shops closing than opening that’s for sure. I’m currently training my nephew the craftsmanship side of the business. My daughter runs our social media and my son is soon to join us when he graduates from college in another month or so. My wife is currently a big part of the business. She runs the shipping and receiving and most of the customer service, so we are a nice size family business at this point.

3. What is your favorite shoe to repair and why?

That’s a tough question. I love working on lots of shoes. Especially the artsy shoes like women’s Christian Louboutin. They’re just like art. And then I also enjoy working on Allen Edmonds and Carmina men’s shoes. The list goes on. Let’s just say anything Goodyear welted. The reason why is the construction is very solid and they last very long time.

4. Has there ever been a shoe you couldn’t save?

I received shoes every week that cannot be repaired. Cheap shoes are hard to repair. Anything under $200 these days at retail price that are brand new are usually made of lots of synthetic materials or cheap leather. Unfortunately, you have to pay $300 and up to get a really good pair of shoes unless you’re buying them second hand on Etsy or eBay, and they’ve been kept in pretty decent shape. Sometimes that works out to be a really great deal for a lot of people. You can get a $300 or $400 pair of shoes barely worn for $100 or less.

5. Your social media has some great stories. How meaningful is it for you and your team to save a pair of shoes that have a special memory or story attached to them?

We receive lots of letters every week with great stories behind them. A lot of them are very, very interesting and people love to hear them. It’s very meaningful to save a pair of shoes that have lots of memories behind them. Sometimes the hard part is telling them when they cannot be repaired any longer. It makes me thankful that I’m not a veterinarian that has to tell them they have to put their favorite pet that they’ve had for 15 or 20 years down… seriously, it can be quite difficult to see the reaction on their face when they’re told they can’t continue wearing their shoes because there’s just nothing left. I never thought that would be a thing lol, but it is.

All in all, I love my trade and what I do. The reward is not the payment but the satisfaction from the customer is the greatest reward.

Follow the stories of Florida-based Jim McFarland at linktr.ee/americascobbler