Long abandoned dresses for $2 dollars hang in front of the store windows. The fading garments, now curtains, all passed out of style before I left grade school; one Liz Claiborne denim shirtwaist caught my attention. My mother wore something like it in the early 90s, and it might be in again. For the price, it wouldn’t be much of a gamble, and the size seemed about right. But I left it there, next to a dozen or so grimy stuffed animals gathered on table above golf cleats. I’m not sure if they were for sale or on guard. No price tags were visible.
There is one Korean man who runs the shoe repair shop, and he sews everything with an ancient heavy Singer and he punches holes in leather with a tool that looks like it belongs at a medieval festival.
Customers must pay for repairs in advance, and his shop bears witness to why. It’s full of things people cared enough to save for mending but not enough to claim with cash — or card, if the repairs exceed $5. Wrinkled mediocre leather handbags, cracked belts, chunky work boots, and well-worn matronly heels tumble over each other.
My husband used to make fun of me for using the word “cobbler.” Cobblers belonged in the old West, or in movies or in fairy tales. People don’t go to cobblers anymore, either he said.
I did, and I still do, in part because I hate shopping for something I already like if I can fix it and keep it a little longer. Also, I find the craft and those who practice it fascinating.
The cobbler’s shop nearest to me sits across the street from a Dairy Queen, a Chinese restaurant, and the KFC on the road to downtown Mansfield. The drive takes 20 minutes.
If the man who sews the straps on my platforms plays golf, I do not know; but I guess he knows enough to play and please a niche market in the area for repairing the shoes and the bags. He keeps a putter, a few balls, and a chintzy putting cup close to the counter where we exchange a few words about how I’d like to repair my things, the cost, and the pickup date.
Pulling out a birthday present, a purse my spouse bought for me a few years ago, I point to the problem. The buckle broke. He nods and says he doesn’t have another that matches. Before I say that I do not care, he tells me to wait and digs through an assortment of belts chopped off at 12 inches that are stacked on an old chair.
The remnant of a brown belt with a mottled brass buckle might have been worn by a man of business, or some guy who always wore jeans. It might have been his good casual belt.
“It looks good,” I say, assenting.
My eldest daughter hugs a teddy bear nearly her size that’s seated next to the Singer that I had to tell her not to touch, and we leave.
We don’t have time to pick up the purse and the pair of heels on Friday, so we go on Tuesday. The room smells like lacquer. The cobbler’s hands are blackened with polish. I point to my bag on top of the mountain of purses, and he hands it to me. The pumps inside are perfect.
In fewer than five minutes, the transaction is complete. Leona hugs that enormous shopkeeping bear again, her baby sister in my arms smiles at the old man who works daily fixing the things people can’t bear to throw out, and we part.