What's a Cobbler?
By Kathy Levy
a. A dessert made with fruit
b. A shoemaker
c. A craftsman that repairs shoes
Answer: A and C.
Sorry, this was a trick quiz because if you had lived a couple of centuries ago, B
would have been correct, too. That's why "cobbler" sounds old-fashioned; it's an ancient craft.
Cobblers used to make shoes, and the shoe owners depended on him to keep the shoes in good
repair for years and years. Today's cobblers no longer make shoes, but they provide a wide range of
services that appeal to the thrifty, the imaginative and the lover of fine shoes.
A cobbler trains for several years, often with a family member, and cobbler's shop is still typically a
family-run business with close ties to the community. (But you can find shoe repair services in some
big box stores, too.) Often a cobbler will carry accessories and supplies like shoe trees, laces and
insoles and high-end leather shoes.
What Can a Cobbler Do?
A cobbler provides a wide range of services. A cobbler can fix a broken strap, remove salt stains,
stretch a shoe up to one size, re-size a belt if you've lost a few pounds, replace a torn lining in a
handbag, repair a coat zipper and, of course, give your shoes the finest shine they've ever had.
A typical work order for a pair of men's leather shoes would be to replace heels and soles, clean
and condition the leather and polish the shoes. A quality cobbler will be sensitive to the design of
the shoe when choosing a new sole. For example, a pair of Italian loafers requires a thinner, more
supple sole than a substantial American-made men's dress shoe.
A cobbler can greatly extend the life of your favorite shoes. My sister has a pair of classic leather
boots that she loves, loves, loves. In the fall, those boots go to a cobbler who repairs them when
necessary, replaces the heal caps and polishes them to a glossy sheen. She has a pair of boots
that look brand new at a fraction of the cost of new boots, and she gets to enjoy them another year.
What Can't a Cobbler Do?
Not much! Cobblers aren't limited to repairs and restoration; because of their knowledge of shoe
design and materials, they can make surprising changes to a shoe that's due for an update. Tony
Sergio, owner of Tony's Quality Shoe Repair in South Bend, showed me a size seven-and-a-half women's boot that he was crafting into a size five. And speaking of boots, Tony was adding zippers to a pair of pullon boots that will make them easier to get on and off.
Thinking about trends in women's shoes, I asked, "Can you turn a closed-toe pump into a peep
"Sure," said Tony. Depending on the construction and arch of the shoe, it's even possible to
raise or lower the height of the heel. A wooden heel can be covered with suede and ankle straps
made to match. A pair of white fabric wedding shoes can be dyed a darker color to complement an
outfit (and cover the scuffs from the wedding reception). The only limitations are your imagination
and the skill of the cobbler.
This is why shoppers of vintage and designer consignment boutiques love cobblers. Since a
boutique's shoes are usually one-of-a-kind and are of very high quality at a reasonable price, an
investment in their upkeep is well worth the expense. If you find an exquisite shoe with a heel that's
not quite right or the shoes need to be a little bigger to make them comfortable, the shoes can be a
good purchase with the help of a cobbler.
What's Old is New Again
Today's economy is bringing more business to our local cobblers. Steve Kulwicki, owner of Alex's
Shoe Hospital, says that he has seen an increase in repairs and maintenance because more people
are interested in extending the life of their shoes. And perhaps trendsetters in the green movement
have recognized that reducing, reusing and recycling extends to footwear.
Yet there is still something old-fashioned about cobblers. They don't seem to be part of the world of
the plastic, of the disposable. Their realm is one of craftsmanship, fine materials, creativity and the
rewards of being a good steward of your possessions. Soul restoration, indeed.