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Gary Fordham, a.k.a. the Shoe Doctor, is making a left shoe into a right shoe.

"This lady had two identical pairs of shoes, but the dog ate both of the right shoes," Fordham said. "I'm reworking the left ones to get one pair of shoes."

Fordham is the owner of a shoe repair shop at 1901 W Bay Drive. And he says he's one of the last of a vanishing breed of craftsman.

"When I began doing this in the 1980s, there were about 35,000 repairers in the U.S.," Fordham said. "Today it is estimated at 7,000."

But as recession fears grow, business is booming for Fordham. As a cost-cutting measure, more people are trying to stretch a few more years out of their shoes instead of throwing them away.

Fordham said his workload has doubled. Rather than a one-day turnaround, he now needs a week for most jobs.

But Fordham's business isn't limited strictly to shoes and the variety of machines in his store reflects that.

Purses, belts, saddlebags, vests, boots, book bags and jackets are given new life here. On a recent Wednesday afternoon, a large white purse was about to be dyed, a pair of boots were waiting to receive new heels, a jacket was scheduled to be refinished and a buckle replaced.

A big part of Fordham's business is specialty work. He frequently gets referrals from physicians for shoe build-ups for leg length discrepancies. His reputation has spread nationwide: Last week, he had build-ups ready to be shipped to owners in North Carolina, Maine and Connecticut.

Fordham said he also changes a lot of shoes.

"Almost any shoe can be made into a dance shoe or a bowling shoe," he said. "Even tennis shoes can become ballroom dance shoes."

One of his most unusual requests was to repair a fabric Jeep door. "The window was coming out and it needed a re-sew," he said. "I was able to make it happen."

Fordham learned his craft as a young man and still enjoys his work 23 years later.

"I enjoy taking something that is broken or damaged and make it look like no repair was ever done," he said. "I expect to do this for the next 20 years."

The Shoe Doctor

1901 W. Bay Drive

Monday-Friday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Saturday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Closed Sundays.

(727) 585-9676