One on One with Shoe Repairman Elijah Malik

Interview with Noah Graff

Today’s Machining World Archives April 2011 Volume 07 Issue 03

Elijah Malik using a Landis 12 Leather Stitching Machine

Elijah Malik, has been in the shoe repair business since 2003. Four years ago he opened his shop, Your Shoe Repair, a full service shoe repair shop in Chicago’s hip northwest-side neighborhood of Wicker Park. His services include fixing buckles and rips in leather, replacing soles and heels, waterproofing, conditioning, dying, and shoe shines.

Who are your main clientele?
Initially, it was mostly business people. You could count on them to keep their shoes shined and their heels looking good. But now it’s become more across the board because of the economy. People who would have normally bought some Payless Shoes and then chucked them are deciding to fix their shoes. And, I’d say 85 percent of my clientele are women. Even though I might get a higher portion of men’s shoes, the women are bringing them in.

What’s the most typical repair you do, and what is your biggest challenge?
The most common repairs are heels and shines, shines are considered a repair. Our toughest challenge is customers who have unrealistic time expectations. Some people don’t have a good understanding of what’s really taking place for the repair.

What’s one of the most interesting repair jobs you’ve had?
I had some boots come in that a dog had eaten up horribly. The customer came in with tears in her eyes but when she left she was all smiles. She couldn’t believe the shoe could be restored like that. To me that was special, to be able to touch a customer who really valued the service.

What are some of the things people can do to prevent needing to bring shoes in for repairs?
I think the biggest mistake people make is not doing preventive maintenance—not spraying, not waterproofing, not doing routine polishes and cleanings. When they’ve got leather bottoms, people don’t put taps on the shoes to prevent the heel from running down so fast. These are things we can do to preserve shoes. They won’t prevent you from coming to a shoe repair shop, but they will cut your expense down.

What is a common mistake people make when polishing shoes?
Perhaps the most common mistake is not cleaning the shoes first. You should wipe them down with some type of soap and water, to make sure that you’re not shining more oil or dirt into the shoe.

If you were to stop being a shoe repair person what would you miss the most about the job? What would you miss the least?
I would miss the connection I make with the customers—even sometimes the disagreements. Those things give you room for more thought, more productivity. The shoe repair shop is like going to the barbershop, it’s a good place to gossip and talk about problems; it’s a good place to share with someone the different things that are going on in your life. The thing I wouldn’t miss is spending all my time in one place all day long.

Do you spit on the shoes when you shine them?
Well, if the customer’s not here, I might spit on the shoe, but never if the customer is in his shoes (laugh). It seems like there might be something to the spit. You get the same effect with water, but I think it’s something about that salvia that adds that sticky, shiny look to the shoe. I had heard people talk about the spit shine, then I tried it, and that shine came out really good. It looks really pretty, man.

When do you throw in the towel and decide it’s not worth repairing a pair of shoes?
Well, we try to go the extra mile. Sometimes it’s time to throw in the towel, but then you have to take into account how much a customer loves their shoes. People have shoes that their grandmother or grandfather gave them, that a loved one who passed away gave them. It may be the shoe they bought when they met their first girlfriend, and they just don’t want to get rid of them. Shoes make us look a certain way, and they make us feel a certain way. People have a personal connection to them.

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