Shoe Repair Industry Still Kicking At Rodgers' Shoe Service in Little Rock

by Luke Jones  on Monday, Apr. 1, 2013 12:00 am  

Rodgers Shoe Service is one of three shoe repair shops left in the Little Rock area.  (Photo by Luke Jones)

Cheap, imported shoes are working hard to erase the longstanding shoe repair industry from the map, but a few determined shops still dot the landscape. 

Rodgers’ Shoe Service in Little Rock has been around for about 50 years, according to owner Henry Rodgers.

“It was my dad’s shop until he passed in August of 1995,” he said.

The shop, located on South University Avenue, looks like it was transported from a downtown storefront. Footwear in all conditions sits on almost every surface. One side of the shop has shelves where Rodgers sells shoes, old and new. The other side is home to his repair machinery: sanders, grinders, shiners, stretchers. Signs taped to walls and shelves point out his policies. (“Rush jobs $10 extra.” “No claim check, no shoes.”) A television behind the counter plays an old episode of “Matlock.” Unsurprisingly, the whole place smells like leather. 

Rodgers started learning the trade at age 6. 

“It was interesting, being a kid here,” he said. “You want to be out playing with the other kids, but my dad wanted me in here helping him.”

A typical shoe repair job takes about a week, he said, and he performs all of the work in-house. Cobblestone Shoe & Boot Repair, a 20-year-old shop in Little Rock, outsources its actual repair work. But Rodgers said this practice isn’t the norm.

“I had the option to do that, but I chose not to, because it takes so long,” he said. “Most customers don’t want to wait that long to get their items back.”

Repairs cost anywhere from $5 up to $50 or more. Rodgers’ clientele, he said, ranges from lower income to doctors and lawyers. Business is steady, but it’s not easy to compete with cheap, disposable shoes. 

“I guess about 80 or 90 percent of [shoes] come out of China,” he said. “A lot of it’s throwaway.”

Even on better quality shoes, he said, the soles or other parts might be from China.

“That makes a difference,” he said. “A lot of that stuff can’t be repaired. It used to be when you grind soles, you got dust — that was where the rubber quality was involved. Now, when you sand that off, it turns to liquid.”

 

 

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