Today, entering a shoe repair shop is an experience many people will miss. With the economic down turn we’re experiencing, has the value of shoe repair over replacement come back in vogue? I decided to check this out, besides I had a pair of boots that needed heels replaced.
I remember when there were shoe repair stands in department stores and always in the 5 &10 Cent Stores. The man behind the counter was nearly always of Italian descent whose father before him, and grandfather before him, had done shoe repairs. Today shoe repair locations have become more limited. I was told there are three in our area. My favorite one is Jordan Shoe Repair on the Square in Wilkes Barre.
During the great depression thousands of unemployed workers from industries decided to scratch out a living repairing shoes. Poorer, over-all craftsmanship and lower prices made their reputations less than attractive. Come with me and we’ll see what the situation looks like today.
Tony Bonczewski is proprietor of Jordan Shoe Repair. Because he is located in the city, his business is considered a fast shop, which provides quick service. “I’ve often wished I was set up in a little neighborhood shop where the pace could be slower,” he said.
He is a widower and works alone. This may explain why he’d prefer a slower pace, that and the fact that he is 81 years old. How is business? Tony doesn’t raise his prices, yet the cost of materials keep going up. “I was actually making more money years ago,” he said.
Tony isn’t Italian, he’s Polish and his father and grandfather were not in the shoe repair business. They were miners. For 35 years he worked with a man who was Italian, his name was Jordan and in 1962 he bought the business from him and for the past 34 years he has conducted his business as Jordan Shoe Repair in the same location on Public Square. When I asked Tony if I could write about him on my blog, he said, “Don’t get me more business, I have more than I can handle now. ” He had put in seven days of work the past week. There’s no question that Tony does good work.
He did not grow up in a family whose occupation was shoe repair, so how did he become one? His family lived in Wilkes Barre and at the age of 15 he became a shoe shine boy, newspaper hawker and delivery boy. He walked a mile and half to where he could sell papers at the square in Wilkes Barre, all the while carrying with him his shoe shine box. However, before leaving, he and his father would pick coal every morning. This was the coal from culm banks that had been thrown out with stone. They filled old potato bags with the chunks of coal, carried it home where it had to be cracked into smaller pieces using a hammer. They worked to pick enough coal to last the winter and to burn in the only stove in the house, the kitchen cook stove.
His health is good and so must be his energy level for every shelf in his shop had repaired shoes waiting for pick up. Much less shoes are being brought in for repair now than in the days when there were shoe repair shops on every corner. Tony said he is making a living today, but not much of one. “Every year I consider retirement,” he said, “and my lease is up next month.” So what are his plans? “I’m going to sign the lease,” he said with a smile.