The Craft of Shoe Repair Endures

By Justin Goldberg

Shoe Repair
Photo by Justin Goldberg.

Behind the counter of Valentino’s Shoe Repairing on Main Street in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., stands Gabeabseoa Shaim, a weathered-looking Korean hunched over a soiled work table, vigorously buffing away at a pair of seasoned work boots. The two counters that define the parameters of Shaim’s work space are cluttered with assorted women’s high-heeled shoes, men’s dress shoes, leather handbags and a host of other projects. Lining the store’s left wall are a variety of specialty soles, shoe repair supplies and other wares, while vintage clocks and other relics are advertised behind the glass storefront. Shaim has owned Valentino’s, open since 1956, for the past 12 years.

“My shop is the last around here. Others have closed down in Tarrytown and Irvington,” the two towns north, says Shaim, with a twinkle in his weary eyes.

Dobbs Ferry, in southwest Westchester County, with approximately 10,000 residents, has breathtaking views of the Hudson River, several Zagat-rated restaurants, and a diverse population. Nestled between the river on the west and the village of Ardsley on the east, the town hasn’t drawn the attention of large businesses because most of the town’s consumers are its residents, and it is off the beaten path of the nearest highway, the Saw Mill Parkway. Dobbs Ferry’s two commercial thoroughfares, Main Street and Cedar Street, are comprised solely of traditional mom-and-pop businesses with fairly stabilized rents. Perhaps this is why Valentino’s still exists.

“Business is getting better. When economy is bad people get their shoes fixed. It’s cheaper than buying new ones,” says a hopeful Shaim.” Valentino’s services range from simple shoe cleanings at $10 to more complicated repairs that run $25 to $50. Shaim also sells and replaces watch batteries for $8 and repairs women’s handbags and leather items.

Despite his optimism, Mr. Shaim’s future and income are in a precarious situation. Long extinct are the umbrella repair shops that once dotted the Lower East Side of Manhattan, because consumers have decided that it is more cost-efficient to buy cheaper mass-produced umbrellas than spend the money to repair an old one. And what happened to all the electronics repair stores of a decade ago? Televisions, toaster ovens and clock radios have become so inexpensive that when one breaks it is simply more economical to buy a new one than fix the old one.

At Marshall’s shoe outlet on nearby Central Avenue in Yonkers, Tony Feliciano was purchasing a $40 pair of Studio via Sport Men’s dress shoes. Asked why he was buying a pair instead of repairing the slightly scuffed and faded ones on his feet, Feliciano replies: “I don’t have the time to fix these. I’m better of getting a new pair. These don’t cost anything.”

So how will this consumer mentality affect Valentino’s? Shaim is open six days a week, Monday through Saturday, and estimates that he has 15 to 20 customers enter his shop each day, spending an average of $20. That amounts to a monthly gross revue of approximately $8,400. Shaim says he pays $2,500 monthly for his 800-square-foot retail store and utilities, plus the materials he purchases to do repairs. If his monthly operating costs are about $3,000, that leaves his net income at approximately $5,400 a month before taxes.

Shaim says his most pressing issue in the imminent future is the rising cost of glue. “For three years, glue been $24 per gallon and now it’s $30 per gallon – that’s big problem” he says.

Shaim is enthusiastic that his busy season – the fall and winter – is under way: “Business gets good. Back to school, lots of walking, many dress shoes and long boot repairs,” he says.

Outside of Valentino’s, leaning against a vintage Ford Mustang, was Rob, 33, a neighborhood resident (who was not asked his last name). A loyal Valentino’s customers, Rob says: “He’s very good. He does pretty good sole work at a good price; if you need shoe work done that’s the guy to go to.” And unlike Feliciano, Rob appreciates the importance of a good shoe-repair man. “If you like the shoes and you want to keep them, you get them repaired,” he says.