Instead of chucking her old shoes in the trash, Beth Bailey took a tip from a friend and brought her favorite pair of clogs to the Custom Shoe Repair at 210 S. Allen St. As an active community member with three young kids, Bailey leads an eco- conscious lifestyle — whether it’s minimizing her carbon footprint or investing in quality products, she is one to make informed decisions and to get the most out of whatever she has. Especially when it comes to footwear.
Although she is one to admire “fun and fine” shoes on others, she rarely purchases them for herself. When she scored a pair of hot-pink clogs, priced originally at $100, on sale from J.Crew for only $10, she was over the moon with excitement. They were quick to become her favorite shoes. Despite the soles being a little bit slippery, she managed to wear the soles down completely in just a short matter of time.
Like many of us, Bailey had grown attached to her shoes. She didn’t want to let them go, but she also didn’t want them hanging around in the back of her closet collecting dust. They were no good for charity, but putting them in the trash didn’t seem right either. Fortunately for her, State College presented another option: an old-fashioned cobbler.
“I loved the idea of bringing my favorite shoes into someone who fixed shoes for a living,” Bailey says.
Angelo Card II, owner of the Custom Shoe Repair, grew up in his family’s shoe-repair business. As a young boy, he played by the humming machines in the workshop and got his hands on real tools. By the age of 12, he was able to help out with the sewing and patch jobs. At 16 years of age, he could do it all.
“I thought everybody’s parents and grandparents all worked together,” he says. He took over the family business in 1995 — his grandfather, Angelo N. Card, had opened the shop in 1966.
The small shop smells of leather and shoe polish with just a hint of cigar. Bells jingle when customers come through the door, and Card, also the sole employee of the business,
steps from his workshop in the back to greet customers at the counter. There is no computer — just an old-fashioned tagging system indicating the type of repair to be done and the owner’s name and telephone number.
“It is like stepping back in time,” Bailey says.
Shoes line the walls and gather in piles in the back of the workshop. A few bags, belts, and purses also are in the mix. A pair of purple Birkenstocks sits waiting for new soles next to a patent-leather Steve Madden platform spike heel with a busted ankle strap. Size 13, black, Brooks sneakers are in line to be stretched. Well-worn Red Wing work boots wait to be weatherproofed.
Old shoes, new shoes, work shoes, kids’ shoes — Card estimates he repairs between 40 to 50 pairs of shoes in a given day. He’s worked on shoes ranging in price from $10 to more than $1,000.
For $25, Card replaced Bailey’s clog soles with nonslip bottoms and returned the shoes looking brand new. “He truly brought the shoes back to life and made them wearable and enjoyable for me,” Bailey says. She still wears the shoes — and it’s been 10 years since she purchased them.
“Spend the money up front, do the maintenance, and they can go for a long time,” Card says as he works on a $275 pair of Johnston Murphy handcrafted dress shoes. He deftly pulls a straight knife through the seams of the worn soles. This isn’t his first time working on these shoes, and he’s pretty sure it won’t be his last. “I re-did the welding on these a few years ago,” he recalls. He estimates the shoes to be about 20 years old.
Heel and sole replacements are the most common jobs in the shop. There is a giant drawer on Card’s workdesk stocked with 40 different size replacements for women’s heels. For $11, new heel pins can extend the life of a favorite pair of stilettos, stacked heels, or pumps. “That’s what keeps the shop going,” says Card.
“The way we do things takes a long time — but it’s the only way to ensure we do a good job,” he explains. His materials are high quality and he uses choice polishes and oils. He orders his supplies from a small, “old-school” distributor who takes orders only by phone.
All shoes are pressed on sized lasts to ensure they return to the proper fit after repairs. These lasts also can be used to stretch shoes — a possible quick fix for a pair of shoes that are just a tad too snug. Card also runs most shoes through his finishing machine — a series of circular sanders, brushes, and polishers that are constantly spinning and grinding away while Card works.
When asked about the best part of his job, he responds, “I get to do what I like and make a living out of it — it’s just long hours. That’s the downside of it.”
The Custom Shoe Repair shop is open Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., but Card is often there before opening time and long after closing, including time in the workshop on weekends. When he’s not in the shop, he enjoys spending time with his wife and kids.
The shoe-repair business tends to be countercyclical in comparison to other business trends. With a slower economy, research shows that people are more likely to fix their shoes instead of buying new ones. Repairs can allow you to wear shoes that feel broken in but look new.
A handy rule of thumb: if the cost of repair is less than half the price of a new pair of shoes, repair the old ones.
Bailey bought a new pair of sporty boots this fall — brown leather Keens. It was a big decision. She had been shopping around for the perfect boot since last fall and didn’t want to miss another season without functional yet stylish boots.
Quality and durability prevailed in her quest for the perfect boots. She expects these boots to carry her through many winters. When the soles wear down or the toes get scuffed, the boots will be sure to find their way into the Custom Shoe Repair.
Card doesn’t turn down many jobs — unless it’s luggage. Belts and purses requiring a sew job are just fine, but he draws the line at hardware.
“The parts can be too difficult to source,” he explains. It often requires ordering from multiple manufacturers just to fix one piece of luggage. “I stick to shoes.”