John's Shoe Repair

One of the best things about spending most of your life in the same neighborhood is that you're able to find the rarest of treasures - people, craftsmen, tinkerers and masters who love what they do and the people they serve.

Think about the little errands you run where you don't mind doing them. Maybe you look forward to interacting with the coffeeshop girl or the bookstore guy. It's more than the simple pleasure of a familiar face and a friendly greeting - it's the joy of doing business with someone who just plain loves what they do and really knows their stuff.

(Quick aside: I swear to God - and with my mom as my witness - I had an extreme version of this while shopping for a toilet recently. The sales guy knew EVERYTHING about toilets, from their history to the mechanics involved, LOVED talking about them - to the point where he grew visibly excited when I told him what model I wanted. He later confessed that his friends would tell him to shut up during movies because he couldn't stop himself from whispering the make, model and manufacturer of the toilets aloud.)

For me, visiting John's Shoe Repair is tops on my list. Yeah, it's nuts, but if I have a pair of shoes that need fixing, I'm giddy.

Why? When you walk into John's shop, there's this warm smell of the leather, soaps, polishes - and a faint metallic tinge I can't quite place. I like that it's unadorned and unpretentious. There are no bright colors or sales stuff or neon - it's just leather, metal and wood. The walls are paneled. The furniture is beat up. There are dozens of shoes, shiny and perfect, that wait to be reclaimed by unknown feet. Some shoes are neatly wrapped in brown paper bags and filed away in little cubby holes. The whole place is brown. All brown. Just like it should be.

And just like John. You'll find John either in his workshop or behind his counter. His smile is his handshake - his calloused hands and chipped nails often have a touch of shoeblack on them. His dark eyes shine past his glasses and snap immediately to the shoes in your hands.

I love the pregnant moment of quiet assessment as he touches your shoes and listens to your diagnosis and makes his no-frills verdict: "Yes, I can do this," or more rarely "No, I am sorry. It cannot be done."

He speaks quietly and carefully in English ripened with an Italian accent. You can tell that John loves shoes. He knows his stuff, his work is perfect and his prices are so low I wish he had a tip jar to alleviate my guilt.

Once, after a sad rash of torn hiking boots and flappy sneakers, I brought in a prized pair of silky-soft leather Italian heels. He picked them up and cooed approvingly, "Oooh, now these are lovely shoes." He won my heart at that moment. It was like I was no longer standing there... it was just him and the shoes.

His footwear repair shop is a one-man operation in every sense: You may show up to a handwritten note that says, "Be back in 20 minutes", but you can bet your butt he'll be there when he says he will.

He's been in his location for as long as I can remember. It means a lot to me to give my business to a man who carved a place for himself and set his roots so deep into my community. I guess that's one of the great advantages to living someplace you really care about: Building ongoing relationships with pleasant strangers.

So, as long as John's Shoe Repair is in business, I'll be his customer - enjoying every moment in his leathery shop and feeling grateful that a one-man operation such as his still exists.

Now, if I could just find a dentist...


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I am a writer and lazy artist who loves travel, architecture and design. Right now, I'm into photography. My fabulous husband (a.k.a. The Varmint) and I are also the principals of a San Diego-based creative agency - and new parents to the divine Baby Mak. Read More >