Frugal Living: The Shoe Cobbler

by Sandy L on February 22, 2012

One of the quirky things about our downtown is that we have some old timey businesses still plugging away that have probably been long forgotten in many parts of suburbia.  One of those businesses is George, the Shoe Cobbler.  George is an immigrant and his store has probably been around for as long as he’s been in this country.  If I were to guess, I think he is from Haiti or one of the Islands from down south.  When I walked in, his little toddler son was with him in the store while he was working away at repairing shoes.  Normally when I go in there, there are at least two other guys loitering in the shop and talking about life and the like.  I love George.  He fixes all my favorite things that babci can’t fix for me.  Yeah, Babci used to cobble her own shoes as well and she would use old tires to resole her stuff.  Her methods were crude, but George’s work is a lot better.

This week I brought in one of my favorite pairs of knee boots. I bought them about 3 years ago and wore them constantly but now they are getting a small hole in the side and the heels are worn down.  For $30 and a week’s wait, I’ll be able to get my favorite boots back. They should be as good as new and hopefully I’ll get another 1-2 years wear out of them.  Whenever I go in there, there are at least 100 pair of shoes in line ahead of me to get fixed.  Although I don’t know too many other people who cobble their shoes, he  always seem to be busy.

My favorite red coat that I literally live in for 6 months of the year has a lining that is shredding to bits. Yesterday I dropped it off at Babci’s. The lining is being replaced with some brown satin she had in her fabric stash.  If Babci couldn’t do it, I’d bring it to the tailor to be mended and there are at least a pair of kids’s pants every other week that are going over there to get patches put on.

I’m not sure if it’s just that I’m frugal, or that I have a deep hatred of shopping for stuff that drives me to repair vs replace stuff.  Shopping is a time suck, and I’m almost 6 feet tall, which means most stuff does not fit me correctly. Even those boots I love so much had to get altered by George to fit correctly.  It’s an exercise in frustration.   When I find something that fits me and looks good, I cherish it and baby it and mend it because it’s not easy to find comfortable shoes or clothes that fit right. My husband also has a great pair of Timberland snow boots and he glued the sole back on them last week and I suspect for the same reasons.  They are comfortable and broken in and they don’t make that style anymore.

Are you a mender? Why or why not? For me, it’s not so much the cost savings aspect as it is the hassle of finding a suitable replacement.

{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

Niki February 22, 2012 at 8:14 AM

I am definitely a reluctant mender. I always put it off, but I would rather work on that then buy new clothes. I also am not a huge shopper. I really have to be in the mood.

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Sandy L February 28, 2012 at 5:16 AM

Niki – I’m spoiled with Babci. She does my mending for me. It’s great. I did a lot less of it when she didn’t live nearby.

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Nicoleandmaggie February 22, 2012 at 8:17 AM

Yes. But reluctant, like Niki. I also just dislike waste which is why sometimes I’ll buy replacement ink that costs exactly the same as a new pen would.

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Sandy L February 28, 2012 at 5:19 AM

Grumpies – packaging is crazy..so much wasted. I have FINALLY gotten into the habit of bringing my reusable bags to the grocery story after so many times of forgetting.

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Money Beagle February 22, 2012 at 11:19 AM

My favorite pair of jeans has developed a small hole but are otherwise perfect. I’m going to see about getting them fixed, even $10 would be much cheaper than a new pair of jeans.

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Sandy L February 28, 2012 at 5:21 AM

Money Beagle – we have 2 tailors in town and our town only has 40K people in it. I’m sure there is someone who could do a good job of it. It’s really hard to part with a comfy pair of jeans. I still have a pair that’s like 15 years old back before the day when stretch fabric got put into all denim. I wish I could find a suitable replacement.

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Linda February 22, 2012 at 11:46 AM

This issue has been really on my mind lately. My standard winter coat has a problem with the zipper. It’s stuck and off track and I had to practically crawl out of it the other day. I knew the zipper was getting problematic, but I also know how much of a pain it is to get a zipper replaced and done well. I actually tried to buy a replacement coat a few weeks ago using a gift certificate I have for Lands’ End. I was really disappointed with that purchase and ended up returning it. (The catalog may say it is the same coat as the one I have from a few years back, but they changed the fit and other elements on it that make it unusuable as a winter coat in Chicago. Seriously, I should be able to wear a sweater under the coat and not feel like I’m in a straightjacket. And I should also be able to put more than a very thin glove or hat in the pocket. Grrr!) So now I’m stuck with either my super warm “sleeping bag” coat suitable mainly for sub-zero wind chill days for every day in this warm winter. I also have to find a good tailor to replace the zipper on my coat. I think Lands’ End will pay for the replacement since they guarantee their clothing, but finding a tailor who will replace it with a really good zipper is going to take some time that I just don’t have right now.

There’s a cobbler in the neighborhood center not far from my house but I’ve only gone in the shop once. The guy who runs it is sort of creepy. The walls of the shop are covered with covers from Maxim magazine and he had copies of Penthouse in the little seating area in the front. I have a pair of boots that need new heels so finding another cobbler is something else to add to that “to do someday” list.

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Sandy L February 28, 2012 at 5:23 AM

Linda – I don’t know about you, but my cobbler is kind of like the barbership. Neighborhood people go in there and congregate and catch up on local gossip and talk the news and weather. Sounds like yours talks about hot chicks too. Don’t give up on your favorite coat. I actually took a day off this week so I could do those kind of errandy things that I don’t usually have the time for during the week.

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101 Centavos February 22, 2012 at 9:08 PM

Put me down as a mender and fixer. No reason to buy/get a new one if the old one can be fixed. Growing up in the old country, the cobbler (or “calzolaio”) was a place of good leathery smells and re-conditioned “new” shoes.

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Sandy L February 28, 2012 at 5:24 AM

101 – yeah, back in the day, you didn’t have more than 1 or 2 pairs of shoes, so mending was a necessity.

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Squirrelers February 22, 2012 at 10:25 PM

I am not a mender, or maybe better put: I haven’t been a mender. However, I can probably do a better job of finding opportunities to do that without investing much extra time. That’s my issue – time. Shoes are a good example, and I have some high quality ones that could see an extension of a year or two with some work.

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Sandy L February 28, 2012 at 5:26 AM

Squirreler – It must be easier for guys to find shoes that fit. For me, it takes way more time to shop for a new item than it does to fix the old one. Women’s fashion changes a lot more dramatically, even with shoes, so one year you’ll find great shoes that are comfortable and appropriate for the workplace, then the next year, there will be nothing good or things just won’t fit.

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The Lost Goat February 23, 2012 at 12:47 AM

I mend high-end stuff that I like, and throw away everything else. I agree with Squirrelers – I have to find the time, either to mend it myself, or to find someone who can. So it has to be worthwhile monetarily – if I can get a new one delivered to my door for less than $100, it is not worth mending.

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Sandy L February 28, 2012 at 5:27 AM

Lost Goat – yes, there’s a point where it’s not worth mending anymore.

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CF February 23, 2012 at 1:02 AM

I’ve been on a mending spree since I discovered the local shoe repair place! He’s kept several pairs of boots going (at around $20-30/pair to replace heels, soles, etc.) and kept my feet dry by regluing leather and such ($5!!!) I love it – I tend to fall in love with boots so the longer I can keep a favourite pair going, the better. And as you mentioned, it’s still cheaper than buying a new pair which may not be as cute or as comfy!

I do minor repairs at home, like rehemming frayed jeans or hiding a rip with some careful stitching, but when it comes to shoes and such, I’d rather leave the mending to the experts.

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Sandy L February 28, 2012 at 5:29 AM

CF- I get attached to my footwear as well. I know my boots are on their last leg, so I’ve been shopping and so far, nothing compares to my favorite pair.

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Molly (Mike and Molly's House) February 23, 2012 at 8:48 AM

Put me down as the shoe cobbler whose kids have no shoes ;)
Both Mike and I can mend and have a pile of clothes that go back years that need attention. We even have the new zipper next to the jacket that needs to be replaced.

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Sandy L February 28, 2012 at 5:31 AM

Molly – Too funny. Yeah, Babci also has a pile of projects all going at the same time. I remember she had cut a pattern for a pair of pants for me when I was younger and by the time she finally got around to sewing them, I had grown 2 inches and they no longer fit.

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Sandy @ Journey To Our Home February 25, 2012 at 2:26 PM

I hate mending! When I lived closer to my family, my grandmother would mend everything for me. But she’s getting older and doesn’t sew much anymore, and it’s a 3 hour drive one way.
The last thing I mended was my daughter’s baby dolls legging. That was really to stop making her cry, than because I wanted to save money.
I have a few things in a pile (mostly my own slacks that need hemmed- I’m the opposite of you- I’m short and things just don’t fit right). But now that my son is wearing things for longer he is putting holes in the knees and I am going to have to start looking for cute patches for him!
I also hate shopping: mending things is the lesser of the two evils. :)

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Sandy L February 28, 2012 at 5:33 AM

Sandy – Yup, I’m definitely spoiled by my mom. Like I said in an above comment, I just took a day off to devote to errands such as this one. The day to day stuff is easy to manage, it’s all the extra little stuff that piles up.

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Savvy Scot February 26, 2012 at 1:02 PM

Mender through and through!

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Sandy L February 28, 2012 at 5:33 AM

The menders are a majority here. Hurray.

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Jenni February 26, 2012 at 1:42 PM

I went to the cobbler for the first time last fall. I’m not sure how I went through most of my life without getting any shoes repaired. Did I just throw them out? Wear them anyway with small holes? I wear 12’s and cute shoes are harder to find – I was reluctant to just give up on my favorite brown shoes for work. My co-worker told me about a cobbler in downtown Denver and hooray! For a $12 repair, I’ll get a year or two more wear out of them rather than having to buy a new pair.

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Sandy L February 28, 2012 at 5:35 AM

Jenni – a size 12 and you never got shoes repaired? Well I’m glad you found yourself a good cobbler. I’m sure it’ll make life a lot easier because that’s a pretty hard size to find in stores.

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Sara Tetreault February 27, 2012 at 11:03 AM

I am definitely a mender and fixer. Only after several attempts to fix something do we finally say ok this is working. Then, we try to buy a replacement used. I also buy clothing for my family by the pound/weight and remake it so that it fits or change the style. By knowing how to mend used clothing, you can save lots of money and resources because most people don’t do it – they just get rid of things. And, yes, I have a good cobbler.

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Sandy L February 28, 2012 at 5:36 AM

Sara – Yeah, I remember the pound store. We had one in the city I grew up in. You wouldn’t believe the stuff you could make from those items.

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Cynthia February 28, 2012 at 3:33 PM

Love this story of the cobbler! I’ve used them for years and have always been amazed at what they can do. I like repairing because I get really attached to things and want to keep them, and have found over the years that I often can’t replace things. Although now I’m getting old enough that I realize that, in terms of clothes, if I just wait 20 years, THEN the style will come around again and I can find replacements!

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