While on my way back from getting some hot tea in the break room at work, I noticed that one of my shoes was making a strange noise. Upon getting back to my office, I saw why: the heel cap had fallen off and was lying next to my chair.

Hmm, I thought. Maybe that’s why I’ve been tripping so much lately. Because I had been tripping. Enough to be embarrassed. I had jokingly chalked it up to becoming klutzy in my “old age.”

I took off my shoe to see if I could press the heel cap back in (at least to get me through the end of the day and back home), and I noticed something further. On both my shoes, the heel had worn unevenly. The inside part of each heel was worn at least a third of an inch lower than the outside part of the heel.

The dilemma

I had known for months that these shoes were wearing out — the right one also had a tear in the leather. But they were my main work shoes. First, they were black, so they went with almost everything. More importantly, they were comfortable enough to wear all day, every day, for 9-10 hours without making my feet hurt.

I’ve always worn shoes well past their expiration date. When I was in fifth grade, the upper part of my sneakers started to separate from the soles, and you could actually see my feet. My mom refused to buy me new ones until after my next growth spurt. While Christmas shopping with my dad, he looked down at my feet and said, “We’re buying you new shoes right now.” I was thrilled beyond words because we were at the mall. Shoes from the mall!

When I was in college and got a full-time internship, my dad bought me my first pair of work shoes. They were Duckhead loafers, and I loved them. I wore them even after they were so misshapen and discolored that my roommate started throwing them away. I kept fishing them out of the trash until eventually she walked them down to the Dumpster when I wasn’t home.

In this instance, I’d been procrastinating buying new shoes because:

  • It would cost at least $50 for a decent pair of office-appropriate replacement shoes
  • The replacement shoes would seem comfortable in the store, only to fail the 9-to-10-hours-a-day comfort test in the real world
  • Shoe stores usually won’t accept returns if they show visible wear so I’d be stuck with the shoes I had bought, and yet…
  • I’d be back at the store paying another $50 for another pair of potential replacement shoes, and on and on.

I knew I didn’t want to buy things I’d never wear. My next thought was Goodwill. However, I needed new shoes quickly — I couldn’t afford to wait for the perfect shoes to make their way to the thrift store. While in most cases the perfect is the enemy of the good, it’s not true in the case of my arches.

I did what anyone would do. I stood in the doorway of a colleague’s office and bemoaned the death of my shoes. She told me that she had had tremendous luck with shoe repair shops in the past. Unfortunately for me, she hadn’t had a shoe emergency since moving to this area and couldn’t recommend a particular shop.

So, I stood in the doorway the office of another colleague, who has lived in this city for years, and asked her if she could recommend a place. She let me know there was a shoe repair shop in a strip mall that her husband had used in the past. Bonus: it turned out to be a strip mall I pass on my way home from work (I hate driving almost as much as I hate shopping).

The solution

I took my shoes in ASAP and relayed my woes to the repair man. “Can you save them?” I asked.

“No problem,” he said. “Pickup on Saturday OK?”

I was pretty skeptical they could really be saved, especially for the $20 that he quoted me, but he seemed so calm and confident that I was willing to try. Saving $30 by repairing shoes is not even close to the hundreds or thousands of dollars you can save by repairing appliances instead of replacing them, but it’s nothing to sneeze at, either.

Lo and behold, when I picked them up on Saturday,

  • The rip had been repaired
  • Some sort of resin had been used to restore the entire heel to its original length
  • The heel caps on both shoes had been replaced, and
  • They had been polished.

For less than half the cost of a new pair of shoes that I’d probably hate anyway, my existing shoes were completely fixed. Yes, if you pick the shoes up and hold them at eye level you can see a line where the original heels meet the resin. Yes, if you’re six inches away, you can see that the seam repairing the rip doesn’t align exactly with the existing seam on the shoe.

But how often are anyone else’s eyes six inches away from my shoes? Never, that I can recall. Heck, until the heel cap actually fell off and alerted me to the problem, my eyes were never six inches away from my shoes.

Repair, don’t replace!

Shoe repair (aka “cobbling”) is a dying art in today’s age of cheap, replaceable Stuff (as are independent shoe salesmen like those who used to work for Mason Shoes). I found my shop through word of mouth. While I later discovered that they do come up in a Google search for shoe repair shops in my area, it never would have occurred to me that my shoes were salvageable.

Another strategy would be to ask a high-end shoe store whom they recommend for repairs, as that’s how my colleague’s husband found this location. The shop I went to gets a lot of its business because they are an official Birkenstock repair location (and they also repair luggage and anything leather).

I am thrilled to have this store on my radar — not only was the repair fast and inexpensive compared with new shoes, but the fellow who runs the shop is a third-generation owner and operator. I’m not just a happy customer, I’m buying local and supporting a tradition.

What’s your best story about repairing something you thought was destroyed?