Best Foot Forward

Well Heeled

The recession kicks cobblers new business

By Sam Holder June 23, 2009 Published in the July 2009 issue of Portland Monthly

MILLING ABOUT IN Marty Krogh Jr.’s North Portland shoe repair shop, you might forget there’s a near-depression brewing outside: the shop is stuffy from the collective body heat of customers waiting patiently to shell out their hard-earned cash.

“We’re definitely doing more [work],” Krogh says as he guides me through the jungle of steel machinery stacked in the store’s gritty back-room workspace. “We’re up 20 percent over last year.”

Krogh isn’t alone. Over on NW 21st Avenue, Jon Aday, owner of Nob Hill Shoe Repair, says that new customers now account for half of his business. In fact, cobblers across the country are reporting a 25 percent uptick in business, according to Jim McFarland, a member of the Shoe Service Institute of America, which tracks such things.

The industry, often considered archaic, has been in steady decline since the 1930s, when more than a hundred thousand cobblers tended to the footwear of the beleaguered masses. Today, fewer than seven thousand shoe repair shops exist nationwide.

The recession, though, has paddle-shocked cobbling back to life thanks to cash-strapped customers who would rather scrimp by paying $12 for a replacement heel than pony up $100 for a new pair of kicks.

“Recessions cause an increase in cobbling,” says Henry Roehr, owner of Derek’s Shoe Repair on SW Broadway, whose April 2009 profits were up 10 percent over last April’s. “It’s a pretty age-old equation.”

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