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 longer I look, the more interesting they become.
If you figure the operating costs per anything—day, year, or pair of shoes—those machines have to be really efficient.
Some of these locomotive-like machines have leather drive belts, shiny control handles, thick deposits of leather and fibre dust, beautifully inscribed or decalled brand names… they’re beautiful.
I’ve walked into many shops for a peek and sometimes, if he’s willing to engage, the shopkeeper will 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 in one of these shops, 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 desiring to maintain rather than discard and buy new, to keep these guys busy.
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!