Elia, my shoe repair man, has a 6′ wide store front on 72nd Street and the machines in it date from 1900. They look like small locomotives. The more I look, the more interesting they become to me.
If you figure the operating costs per anything—day, year, pair of shoes, anything—those machines have to be really, really efficient.
Some of these locomotive-like machines have leather drive belts, shiny control handles, thick encrustations of leather and fibre dust, beautifully inscribed brand names… they’re beautiful.
I’ve walked into many shops and usually ask the operator questions; then, if he is willing to engage, he’ll tell me how he acquired them, where they came from, where he came from. Every story is an authentic New York story of immigration, bravery, dedication and tolerance plus never-ending work.
I’ve never met a female shoe repair person, not in New York.
The stores are usually wedged between two huge buildings, whenever there is a narrow space separating them. And, New York is the only city I know that has so many. I guess there are enough New Yorkers who buy good quality, repairable shoes with a desire to maintain them, rather than discard and buy new shoes.
Once you’ve noticed one or two, you will realize how many there are—because they are so narrow, they are easily overlooked. Pop your head into one and take a look!