From heels to a fresh shine, cobblers nail new clients

Shoe repair shops in the Truckee Meadows have seen a spike in business as consumers save money by fixing older shoes rather than buying new ones.

And some stores have seen a big boost in the shoe shine business possibly from job seekers polishing their footwear before interviews.

Tammy Mason, co-owner of the Sole Emporium with her husband Ken, who has owned the store at 5041 South McCarran since 1984, says first-quarter business increased 10 to 20 percent, with most new customers coming in for repairs so they wouldn't need to replace shoes. The biggest surprise has been in the number of younger people coming in to have their footwear repaired.

"They just can't afford to go out and buy something new," Mason said. "They are trying to make them last as long as possible. If they are going to Payless to buy a pair of shoes, they might still come into repair them, but a lot of times the cost of the repair is more than what they paid for the shoes. Unless they truly love them, they are not going to repair those kinds."

Mason says much of the repair work done at Sole Emporium is on expensive designer brands, such as Johnston & Murphy's, Ferragamo, Stuart Weitzman, and the "Sex in the City" shoes Jimmy Choo's. Repairs typically are priced by the work necessary to fix the shoe, but some custom alteration work is done by the hour.

"We are lucky we are always busy, but more people are telling me they are new to this," Mason says. "People also are trying to buy more quality shoes so they can keep them up."

Repair is the main revenue generator for the Sole Emporium. Retail sales of shine equipment, polishes, brushes and other accessories provide a little extra money, Mason says. The store offers basic shines for $5, and more new customers are coming and asking for shines.

"With this I economy I would have thought this is something they would do at home, but there are a lot of people going on interviews, definitely."

Milany Reyes, manager of Reno Shoe Repair and Alterations at 203 E. Plumb Lane, says her business also has increased. Older clientele and repeat customers make up much of her business.

"We always get people that would rather repair their shoes," Reyes says. "Older people, we see them now more than before with them saving their shoes or repairing shoes that they had 20 years ago and can't buy anymore."

Reyes is taking over the business from her father, who has been a cobbler for almost five decades.

"He's been doing this since he was 16, and he's now 64," Reyes says.

Reno Shoe Repair and Alterations also gets a lot of business from cowboys in the Elko and Winnemucca areas who send in their boots for repairs or alterations, mainly before the Reno Rodeo.

"We get really busy in the summer, especially during the rodeo," Reyes says. "Most of our customers like the quality of my dad's work, and once you do good work they keep coming back."

The store also fixes luggage, which accounts for a small percentage of its bottom line.

"If it is slides and zippers, rather than buying $200 new luggage, they would rather have us fix it," Reyes says.

Some shops, however, have seen a large drop in their repair business.

Jesus Contreras, owner of Guys and Dolls Boot and Shoe repair at 2104 Greenbrae Drive, says repairs are off between 30 and 40 percent. Older customers looking to save a few bucks make up the majority of his clientele, and they're feeling pinched.

"It is slow right now," Contreras says. "People are looking for a good price, and right now if I tell them $30 they say it is too much."

Alberto Garcia, the owner of Alberto's Boot and Shoe Repair on North Carson Street who has been making and repairing shoes since he was a boy, says business always remains steady in Carson City.

The majority of his customers are older people, he says, as younger generations tend to toss worn footwear into the trash rather than paying for repairs.

"It all depends on the parents," Garcia says. "Here in Carson City, probably 35 percent of young people, if they have little repairs or sewing on their shoes, they fix it. The rest just throw them away."

Garcia says its gets harder and harder each year to make a living in the cobbling business.

"The future looks like nobody will fix shoes," he says. "I think we need someone to repair things in this town there are a lot of nice things we would like to keep. Sometimes I fix things that are not worth fixing, and I don't charge enough, but that makes me happy and gives me more energy to keep working."


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