It seems to most that shoe repair is a dying art. While in decades past people owned few pairs and frequently had them repaired in order to save money, nowadays it is more common to see people purchasing new shoes when their old ones wear down. Mass production and the lower quality of most shoes on the market today mean that, in most cases, it is cheaper to toss an old pair than to bring it back to life.
Cobblers, too, have changed to try to keep business coming in the door. Some are capturing the modern cobbler’s advertising strategy well; instead of highlighting the economical aspect of having shoes repaired, they appeal to their customers’ attachment to their shoes, insisting that repair can preserve the comfort of a well-worn shoe or keep a favorite pair going longer. Incidentally, these claims are not only true, but in New York City they have caught the eyes of an unlikely crowd: wearers of high-end sneakers.
Firm Shoe Repair is a modest shop located on the corner of East 12th Street and 4th Avenue, just south of Union Square. The interior looks quite plain overall, with insoles and polishes on racks and shelves in front of the counter and a small selection of footwear for purchase in the window and on the shop’s south wall. It is a traditional-looking repair shop in almost all regards — they even have a machine behind the counter for duplicating keys — except for the rows of designer sneakers hidden behind the employees. Next to the work boots and leather shoes waiting to be fitted with durable soles for the winter, visitors can clearly see sneakers by Rick Owens and Carol Christian Poell, some from collections from nearly a decade ago.
These coveted sneakers aren’t cheap — they retail for more than $1,000, and the rarer vintage pairs can fetch even more on the used market. With their aggressive and avant-garde designs they look like they should be in modern art museums instead of on the shelf at Firm, but it makes sense that owners of these shoes have become such a large part of cobblers’ customer base. Like the workers of yesterday did, these customers make sound financial decisions when they repair their shoes, the rubber soles of which wear down quite quickly. Replacing a worn-out pair would become expensive very quickly, but Firm only charges between $50 and $70 for each resole job. All a customer needs to do is drop off the beloved pair, and within a few days the new, firmer rubber is ready for daily wear.
That pricing and convenience seems to be working very well for Firm. On popular fashion forums, the shop is one of the most recommended New York City cobblers, and many happy customers have even had a single pair resoled multiple times by the Firm workers. Maybe shoe repair, then, is far from dying, it just looks different from what most would expect.
Have you ever used Firm Shoe Repair’s services? Let me know here or on Twitter @BillChangNY