Shoe Repair Shops are rebels in a retail City that is fast falling into lockstep conformity.
They are always Mom & Pop operations; conglomerates don't seem to see much future in the trade. And these Moms & Pops don't seem to care what anyone thinks. If the store is ramshackle and disorganized, who cares? If it's dusty and outdated, so what? Will they do more business if they put in some sconces? Will people suddenly have more shoes to repair? These merchants seem to think not.
Shoe Repair shops don't need much room. They will fit in any hole in the wall. Very often, in Manhattan, they snatch up extremely narrow spaces. Or they'll be found in the shabbiest, out-of-the-way corner of a subway station. In the outer boroughs, they can take on even more peculiar personalities.
Take a look at Herman's Shoe Repair in Borough Park. The sign is small, and in English and Hebrew. (It's an observant shop; closed Saturdays.) Inside, the dust is busy settling. There are old shoe-repair-related tools and contraptions that belong in the Smithsonian. At some point, long ago, the folks at O'Sullivan Heels talked the owner into pasting stickers for the product all over the store. (Humphrey O'Sullivan was an Irish immigrant who received the first patent for a rubber heel for shoes in 1899.)
I did not ask more because the owner of the shop was dead asleep in his chair behind the counter.
Shoebiz gets even more idiosyncratic in nearby Ditmas Park. This business on Cortelyou Road is done out what can only be called a shack. A stand-alone shanty, barely there, surrounded by fine residential homes. Not only are shoes fixed in this cubby hole, but watches are repaired and keys made. From a cardboard box outside, you can nab a new pair of footwear for $5. Or a shirt or two. Or make a phone call. They also make custom shoes.