Good for the sole

Don’t throw out those worn Doc Martens. Instead, take them to one of Reno’s many shoe doctors

David Savoy can take shoes that are ready for the trash can and make them like new.

David Savoy can take shoes that are ready for the trash can and make them like new.

Photo By David Robert

The bell chimes as you step foot in the front door of Village Shoe Repair, at the intersection of California Street and Keystone Avenue. A sign reads “Minimum charge $3.00” and “Not responsible for items left over 30 days.” David Savoy and his Boston terrier, Emily, greet you as you enter their quaint store.

There are bird houses on a shelf to the right and porcelain figurines arranged carefully on the front counter. A stack of magazines has been conveniently placed next to a green chair, so you can catch up on celebrity gossip or the latest sports news while Savoy, the shoe repairman, fixes your footwear in back.

In today’s culture of disposability, many people don’t seem to be aware that it’s not always necessary to buy a new pair of shoes when another pair starts to look a little weathered. A trip to the shoe repair shop may seem like yet another errand to run during an already busy day, but the chore is usually well worth it. Fixing shoes is usually cheaper than buying new ones, after all.

In many European countries, the art of shoe repair is very common. In Madrid, Spain, for example, shoe repair shops are as abundant as dry-cleaners or pharmacies. As soon as autumn hits, Spaniards change out summer tank-tops and linen pants for sweaters and jeans. And without a second thought, they also take their boots and other closed-toed shoes to the repair shop. This doesn’t mean Spaniards don’t go shoe shopping—they simply wait until the old shoes are irreparable before they buy new ones.

Savoy has been in the shoe business since 1974. He runs his business single-handedly and can do just about anything when it comes to repairing shoes; he dyes leather, shines, stretches, adds tassels, widens, and replaces soles, heels and straps.

“I’ve been working since 1974,” Savoy says. “I went to shoe repair trade school in Minneapolis for two years. It is a long story, but I was paralyzed, and now it is the only thing I know.”

Savoy says he stays in the trade for his customers. For the 20 years he has been in the shoe repair business, he’s never had a bad check: “People who take care of their shoes take care of everything,” he points out.

Benny Reyes, owner of Reno Shoe Repair, 203 E. Plumb Lane, has gray-black hair and today is wearing overalls. He looks small next to his bulky 25-year-old steel machinery. Placing a men’s black dress shoe on the five-in-one cutting machine used for shoe soles and leather, Reyes moves in closer to the machine, pushes up his glasses and begins to resole. The sound of the apparatus quiets the soft elevator music in the background.

Reyes was born in the Philippines and has been working in the shoe business since he was young. Immediately after high school, he worked in his dad’s shoe store and learned the skills needed to produce custom-made shoes. While helping out at his dad’s shop, he went to trade school for cobblers. Today, with his own shoe repair shop in Reno, Reyes still enjoys his work.

Tools of the trade: Today’s cobbler still works with some tools that were in use decades ago.

Photo By David Robert

“I love my work and my customers,” Reyes says. “If you do good work, they come back. If you don’t do good work, they don’t come back.”

Reyes’ customers include local District Judge Charles McGee and Oakland A’s centerfielder Mark Steven Kotsay.

Shoe doctors say that footwear today is not constructed with the quality it once was. Shoes are made cheaper and sold cheaper. People are more inclined to buy another pair rather than revamp an old pair, especially since shoe soles—once made of hard rubber or leather—are now often made cheaply out of molded plastic.

“People usually just buy new shoes,” says Reyes. “But, if they like the shoe enough, they will pay whatever it takes to fix them.” Reyes has had requests such as replacing the steel shank on a $10 pair of shoes, which winds up costing the customer $18.

Local shops repair not only shoes, but also anything made out of similar materials, such as purses, pocketbooks, wallets, catcher’s mitts, belts and dance shoes. The shops around town also take care of work boots for Reno’s fire and police departments. Depending on their ability and tolerance, the folks at shoe repair shops can fix almost anything made from leather.

Prices range from $4.50 to repair a dowel and other small heels to $25 and up for the replacement of soles in a shoe. Work boots with heavy rubber heels generally cost $13 and up, and a work boot with a lug heel costs around $15. It typically costs $18.50 a pair to dye shoes, and re-stitching of soles is about $5 per shoe.

Reno shoe repair store owners will all tell you that a personal endorsement is still the best form of advertisement.

Tammy Mason, co-owner of Sole Emporium, in Smithridge Plaza next to Trader Joe’s, says, “Word of mouth is really great for us. It surprises me, but I get customers once a week saying they heard about us from a friend or the other day at the grocery store.”

Mason says the store also draws out-of-town customers from places in California like Tahoe, Portola, Quincy, Truckee and Susanville: “We have customers that have been with us for 20 years, and they followed us to this location here.”

Perhaps one reason Mason and her husband, Kenneth, have loyal customers is because they do favors. They are currently selling music CDs by two faithful customers—Lacy J. Dalton and Squeek Steele, both Virginia City residents. Country singer Dalton was called “Country’s Bonnie Raitt” by People magazine, and Steele holds the Guinness world record for most songs performed by memory on piano.

“We normally don’t do things like [sell CDs], but because they’re customers and have been coming for a long time, we help them promote,” says Mason. “That’s what’s so nice about being local.”

When it comes to the feet, the way to get your money’s worth from a pair of shoes—or perhaps to extend the life of the shoes you hope to be buried with—can be found in the shoe repair shops of Reno. Drop a few bucks, and they’ll leave you with a shine, a solid heel and a healthy sole.