Sure, Trofim Banar is an anachronism, but a reassuring one.
There’s something that seems right about watching the 41-year-old Ukrainian immigrant, in his apron and his wool cap (from the mother country), tap tiny nails into the heel of a well-made boot. After all, most of us are inundated by shoddy, disposable crap that’s not worth fixing.
And lately it seems that not just our personal stuff—but our economy, our lifestyles, and even our collective peace of mind—have been poorly made, not built to last, like some cheap vinyl shoe turned out for pennies in somebody’s corporate sweatshop.
But here and there, there are people like the cobbler Trofim, people who mend soles and repair heels. People who still practice the lost art of fixing what are basically sound and good. You can find his shop at Arden Fair Shoe Repair, 1777A Arden Way, (behind Arden Fair Mall), 916-922-2362.
How long have you been in business here?
I’ve owned the shop for three years. I worked here for three years before that. But I came from the Ukraine. In Chernovtsy. I worked over there for 13 years as a cobbler, starting in 1982.
How did you become a cobbler?
My father in the Red Army did it. He started in 1941. It was just for the soldiers. Boots, boots, boots, nothing more. Heels and soles, that was all. After the war was over, after the army, he didn’t do it. In 1945, he came home. He didn’t do it anymore.
I was in the army too. I came home from the army in 1981. I liked the job. For me, it was good. I came over here in 1992.
What do you like about it?
I don’t know. I have always had … an attraction to it. I worked on big trucks. And I worked as a blacksmith in 1985, before my marriage. I fixed shoes for horses. Farm equipment, tractors, agricultural equipment, you know. But I like this work more.
A lot of people don’t even think of the cobbler anymore. Are they disappearing?
There are less and less cobblers every year. There are less and less shops. Young people now are interested in computers, to work with computers. But working in shops, like shoe repair, people are not as interested.
Is there an art to cobbling?
[Laughs.] It is very hard. Not everybody can do it. Many people try, but can’t do it, because I think this is like some gift. You have to … you know, sometimes, if you can’t do something, and you just drop it [waves his hands dismissively]. You need … I don’t know this word. You need to finish the job, you know.
To be patient?
Yes, I think so. Because sometimes the jobs are very small, but you always have to do a good job. Any job, you have to be patient.
You run the shop by yourself?
It’s just me. I come early, stay late. It’s very hard to find good employees. Very hard. Because nobody has the experience. This is not something people learn in school, or learn from their parents anymore.
Is there a place for a cobbler in our throwaway culture?
I fix shoes that are more expensive. You know, a hundred dollars or more. Not Kmart, Wal-Mart shoes. Made in China shoes, they are not fixable. People can just buy new shoes. Before it was different. But now there is bad material.
If you buy shoes for $150, and the top is in good shape, everything else is good. I replace the sole for $40. They will last a long time, and you will save money over the long run.
You can’t do anything with my cheap shoes?
Yeah, we can put glue on them, stitch them, and clean them. But repair is really more for leather shoes, dress shoes, cowboy boots.
How is business?
Business has been very good. There are a lot of shoe stores in Arden Mall, and I do work for them. Nordstrom’s and Macy’s.
People bring their shoes into Nordstrom and ask, “Where is a good cobbler?” I work every day, I deliver and pick up shoes from the different stores.
And people just come in too. Also, I do luggage, bags as well as shoes.
You haven’t been hurt by the recession?
No, I haven’t felt it. We have more business I think. Because of the economy, people want to save money. People want to repair shoes, not to buy them.
Do you worry about the cobbling profession disappearing altogether?
No. There are less and less shops, but they are stronger shops, because there is less competition. There was one shop over here, but now he is closed because he couldn’t compete.
Do you get a lot of famous people in here?
I have before, but I don’t want to cause trouble for them. OK, I have had people from TV, Channel 3, Channel 13, Channel 40, Fox.
Anybody really cool?
[KFBK talk show host] Tom Sullivan.
Really? What was wrong with Tom Sullivan’s shoes?
Maybe it’s better not to say. Wouldn’t be professional.
Can you give me a hint?
It’s very busy. I have to go to work now.