Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled heels

| Print |  Email
Wednesday, April 01, 2009

ShoeRepair Waiting for a new sole at Derek’s Shoe Repair in Portland. The cobbler business is booming.

STATEWIDE Need those Italian leather loafers or well-worn hiking boots resoled? Don’t be surprised if you wait three weeks for the repair.

Backups that long at Sedlak’s Boots & Shoes – the sole surviving repair outfit in Corvallis – forced owner Paul Mumford out of retirement in February to rescue his cobbler from a mounting pile of fatigued footwear.

“He was just swamped,” says Mumford, who used to also own Sedlak’s stores in Lincoln City, McMinnville and Eugene. “We’re the last ones standing in town.”

Shrinking, yet countercyclical, the shoe repair business is now booming for Oregon’s survivors. As the economy tanked last fall, customers looked to squeeze more life out of old wares, increasing demand for these services. Year-over-year repair sales are up 20% to 30%, many area stores report, paralleling national trends.

Entrenched cobblers have also gained market share as mom-and-pop rivals retire without replacements and shutter their shops. As a percentage of its total workforce, Oregon has the country’s fifth-highest concentration of shoe and leather workers/repairers, according to a 2007 Bureau of Labor Statistics report.

When Sedlak’s opened downtown in 1944, Corvallis supported 11 cobblers. The college town even had its own nine-month shoe repair school through the early 1990s. Now only Sedlak’s remains, since its only Corvallis competitor closed in September. The U.S. has about 7,000 repair shops left, compared to 120,000 during the Great Depression, according to the Shoe Service Institute of America. The industry shrank alongside the rise of mass-produced, made-in-China shoes, with glued-on bottoms instead of stitched insoles, often cheaper to dispose of and replace than repair.

“We turn a lot of people away, if the shoe’s dead, not worth our time and a waste to invest in,” says Marty Krogh, owner of Art & Sole Comfort Footwear in North Portland. He planned to focus on retailing high-quality clogs and boots when the store opened five years ago. But since last fall, demand pushed Krogh to say yes to more repairs.

“People notice the problems in their shoes a lot faster here” because of the weather, says Henry Roehr, who runs Derek’s Shoe Repair in Portland. The downtown area had a dozen repair shops when Roehr entered the trade 13 years ago. At least two-thirds of those have since closed.

Customers regularly travel from as far as the Oregon Coast to Sedlak’s and to Olde Towne Shoe Repair, the only shop left in neighboring Albany. Olde Town weekly takes in about 100 repair jobs, nearly double what it handled this time last year.

“The work is as steady as heck,” says shop owner Larry Lindsey. “Who else has got that claim now?”

LAURA MCCANDLISH

Have an opinion? E-mail This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

 

More Articles

Corner Office: Steve Tatone

January-Powerbook 2015
Saturday, December 13, 2014

Seven tidbits about the president and CEO of AKT Group.


Read more...

Corner Office: Marv LaPorte

January-Powerbook 2015
Saturday, December 13, 2014

The president of LaPorte & Associates lets us in on his day-to-day life.


Read more...

Top stories in 2014

The Latest
Thursday, December 18, 2014
10-listthumb

2014 was a year of wild contradictions, fast-paced growth and unexpected revelations.


Read more...

See How They Run

January-Powerbook 2015
Friday, December 12, 2014
BY LINDA BAKER

Studying ground-running birds, a group that ranks among nature's speediest and most agile bipedal runners, to build a faster robot.


Read more...

Three problems with Obama's immigration order

News
Wednesday, November 26, 2014

BY NISHANT BHAJARIA | OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR112614-immigration-thumb

By now, anyone who knows about it has a position on President Obama’s executive order on immigration. The executive order is the outcome of failed attempts at getting a bill through the normal legislative process. Both Obama and his predecessor came close, but not close enough since the process broke down multiple times.


Read more...

The short list: 4 companies engaged in a battle of the paddles

The Latest
Thursday, December 04, 2014
pingpongthumbBY JACOB PALMER | OB DIGITAL NEWS EDITOR

Nothing says startup culture like a ping pong table in the office, lounge or lobby.


Read more...

The short list: 5 hot coffee shops for entrepreneurs

Contributed Blogs
Friday, November 14, 2014

CupojoeBY JESSICA RIDGWAY

Oregon entrepreneurs reveal their favorite caffeine hangouts.


Read more...
Oregon Business magazinetitle-sponsored-links-02
SPONSORED LINKS