Your heels have worn down to the nails. Your sandal strap broke. Your soles have holes. What better excuse to go shoe shopping? • But wait. Even cheap pairs from discount stores can add up, especially with the likelihood that, given the quality, they'll suffer the same fate. • A better option may be good, old-fashioned shoe repair. There's something quaint and preservationist about going to a shoe cobbler. And in a lot of cases, it's quicker and cheaper than buying new.
"Even if they're inexpensive, you're still saving few dollars if you figure you're spending $7.50 (to replace heel tips) on a $10 pair of shoes," said Earl Duncan, owner of the 65-year-old Holmes Shoe Repair shop at 17 Sixth St. N in St. Petersburg. "And that's not including spending the time shopping, and then you need to calculate gas, which isn't cheap these days."
Sometimes throwing away damaged shoes makes sense. But before you do, consider whether those separated soles or lost loafer tassels or broken heels are salvageable.
"I was surprised at how cheap it was when I first took a pair of dress shoes in to get reheeled," said Carolyn Schmidt of St. Petersburg, who frequents Duncan's shop. "I'd rather just preserve shoes I like and that are comfortable than go out and spend money on new ones."
Here are some guidelines on shoe repair, cobbled from the cobblers themselves, that could potentially save you hundreds of dollars annually in replacement shoes.
Heels are the easiest and cheapest fix. When in doubt, fix those heels. They typically cost about $6 to $10 a pair for women's shoes and $20 to $30 for men's shoes. By replacing the heels, the entire shoe performs better, whether it's a cheap or expensive pair.
No job is too large or small. Cobblers are skilled at adapting to new materials and details in shoes. Most can rebuild a shoe practically from scratch if needed. "Basically, anything can be fixed for a price," said Joanna Cooper of Hyde Park Cobblery and Shoe Repair at 2 S Howard Ave. in Tampa. "It just depends on how much you're willing to spend. It could change the look and structure of the shoe, but anything could be done."
Find shoe cobblers that only cobble shoes. While a good alterations or dry cleaner's place that also happens to do shoes may be fine, shops that only focus on shoes tend to be the most meticulous and skilled at complicated repairs. There also are several online shoe repair services, such as NuShoe.com, that will send you a postage-paid mailing bag for your shoes or boots after you fill out an order form.
Buy well-made (i.e. more expensive) shoes that you love, and do regular maintenance like you would on a car. This especially goes for men's shoes, which tend to be more utilitarian than women's shoes and are also more expensive. In his many years repairing shoes, Duncan said he has been most impressed with Allen Edmond or Alden brand shoes for men, and Nine West, Cole Haan or Rockports for women. If you have a pair of shoes you love, bring them to a shoe repair shop for scuff guard or sole guard application. Some shoes also can be waterproofed.
Don't abandon your shoes forever. Most shoe repair shops will hang on to your shoes for months, and sometimes years, in hopes you'll return for them someday. But it's kind of rude. At Holmes Shoe Repair, there are special shelves for those sad, unclaimed shoes, and actually they'll keep them for up to three years, Duncan said. After that, they'll donate the shoes to charity.