The Cobbler

The Cobbler - Remembering to appreciate making old things new again.
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The Cobbler - Remembering to appreciate  making old things new again.

On our way back from lunch one day my lovely friend G mentioned she needed to stop by the cobbler before heading back to the office. “, what?” I said, thinking how funny it was that such a modern girl would be shuffling off to what I picture as a rusty blacksmith shop from the turn of the century. “It’s AWESOME” she said.

“Sweet – see you back at the office!” I yelled as I headed in the other direction. Clearly this was a topic requiring major amounts of explanation. The kind of issue we would have to discuss some other time when I wasn’t almost late for an afternoon meeting. I walked back and forgot about the whole thing. That was until about a week later when I noticed that all this lunching on the city streets of Durham was doing a number on my favorite high heels. My fiance’s leather coat had a few tiny rips that needed to be mended as well, so I took that along too as I have heard “cobblers” can fix things like that.

“Hey G, didn’t you say you knew of a local shoe guy?” I asked. “OMG…yes!” she said kind of wild-eyed, “You will totally LOVE him…he is AMAZING!” I hoped so…my heels were worn to sad little nubs showing their steel pins. She told me how to get there…and I was off hoping it was something I could fit into a lunch hour.

I took a right on Main street thinking this seemed to be the direction a little less developed, a little more urban, a little far away than the newly developed office buildings and businesses that were touted for reviving and “revitalizing” Durham. (and seeming consequently a little more scary for a lady walking alone.) No matter, I put on my “don’t mess with me” face looked forward and down and forged on. I needed to get my sad little shoes revitalized.

Walking up to this shop with no brand or proper signage (other than an ambiguous vinyl “Shoe Repair” on the window) I was struck by the utilitarian, no-nonsense purposefulness. Huh. Marketing (which had been my day job for more than 10 years) was completely irrelevant here. How refreshing to see something built on purpose and not on ego. Not overly thought out. Cool.

I walked in, greeted with a glance and side smile from two older gentlemen just hanging out in the store in the middle of the afternoon. I suddenly got a heavy, distinct whiff of what  shoe repair smells like –  tanning oils, an, earthy raw leather smell. The sounds of shoe repair- random  clanking, the soft pound of a rubber mallet, machines with a low slow drone and friendly laughter. The feeling of this shop was distinct and inspiring. Walking into this world a few blocks away from my hectic office, was walking into a whole new world. Joking around with the shop owner, I said “this seems like a great place to work. Hanging out, doing your thing…looks fun.” “It is, it is…” He said smiling, .

When I came back the next day to pick up my shoes, there was a new cast of folks hanging out in the shop, greeting me in just as relaxed and friendly way as the others did the day before. A woman behind the counter sweetly asked “how are you doing, what is your name?” “Molly,” I said “I dropped off a leather coat and some sad, work high heels yesterday and they were supposed to be ready at lunchtime.” She calmly looked around through a fairly scattered  stack of completed orders. “Ah here, Miss Molly,” she said with a warm smile ” here you are…and you also had a leather coat. Hey where is Miss Molly’s leather coat?” I saw one hanging on a rack up front that looked like it…”Is that it?” I asked “I think so, it looks great!” “Oh Molly, you going to take my leather coat with you, Molly?” he said, calling from the back work area, “Oh you can have that coat, In fact I’ll pay you to take that old thing. Ha ha, Miss Molly trying to walk out of here with my leather coat.” The shop regulars had a good laugh over this and I was feeling so at home I was giggling too.

I got the perfectly fixed up high heels and the actual leather coat I brought in and they looked like time had never touched them – Perfect.  Amazing! A plus work and attention to detail all for…$7.50? I looked at the bill for all this amazing work and great time and could not believe my eyes. “I ain’t going to charge you for the coat Molly…that little bitty rip wasn’t nothin’ to fix.”

I didn’t ever want to leave this place. It felt so warm  and rich with tradition and all the things companies spend years trying to build processes to replicate. How beautiful.  What’s “quality” – well it’s just knowing your craft,  and doing things the right way cause that is how it should be done. What’s “customer service” – it’s just liking people and caring about fixing things up just as they need them to be fixed up. What’s “authenticity” – it’s just being who you are, doing what you do, and sharing it every time someone happens into your shop.