In a throw-away world, Jim McDaniel of Grafton carries on his grandfatherâ€™s craft and makes shoes that last 30 years
When Jim McDaniel sits behind the Sutton Landis shoe repair machine at Heimâ€™s Shoe Store in Grafton â€” the same one his grandfather Arthur Heim used when he opened the shop in 1946 â€” he feels at home.
â€śI learned most of what I do by watching him, asking questions,â€ť McDaniel said. â€śHe was patient, which helped a lot.â€ť
McDaniel, 50, has spent the past 30 years cobbling shoes and boots, and repairing just about anything else made from leather with his mother, Arlene McDaniel.
Heâ€™s always enjoyed working with his hands, whether itâ€™s with wood, cars or leather.
In a world of throw-away shoes, repair shops are rare. McDaniel is one of the only cobblers left in the area.
â€śWe donâ€™t have the foot traffic that places like New York and Chicago do,â€ť he said. â€śWeâ€™ve done something right over the years to get people to come back.
â€śThe fact that we own our own building is huge.
â€śFor someone to start a shoe repair or other business now, I wouldnâ€™t.â€ť
Some people wear a pair of running shoes for a few months and get rid of them. Thatâ€™s not the kind of shoes the shop fixes.
â€śWeâ€™re here for people who have owned a nice pair of dress shoes for 20, 30 years and donâ€™t want to go out and buy another pair,â€ť McDaniel said. â€śA shoe gets broken in and it feels right on their foot. To them, the shoes they have are special and we will treat them that way.â€ť
He estimates the shop fixes about 75 items per week, or more than 100,000 repairs over his career at the shop on Bridge Street.
A typical sole or heel replacement will cost about $40, while rips range from $5 to $10, depending on how much work has to be done.
â€śOur prices are pretty affordable and we could raise them if we wanted to, but weâ€™re in a position where thatâ€™s not as important as having people come back,â€ť McDaniel said.
One of the most popular items the store repairs are womenâ€™s fashion boots, McDaniel said.
The shop fixes more than just shoes and boots though, repairing anything from awnings and canvas tarps to motorcycle saddle bags and gun holsters.
â€śAn older gentleman came in with a gun case this year that had been left in a linen closet for more than 50 years with the pistol in it. It basically fell apart when you touched it,â€ť McDaniel said. â€śWe stitched it back up for him and got it back to working order.â€ť
A high-quality pair of leather work boots will last a year or two, McDaniel said, while dress shoes can last for a few decades.
â€śSome guys wear their work boots every day and theyâ€™ll only last for so long, even with repairs,â€ť he said.
Itâ€™s worth it to fix shoes or boots that sometimes cost several hundred dollars.
â€śYou might only get a few more months out of it, but why get rid of that investment if you can do something about it?â€ť McDaniel asked. â€śHowever, if someone buys a pair of boots for $40, it doesnâ€™t pay to resole it because it would be more than the cost.â€ť
When a company has been around nearly 70 years, it almost goes without saying that Heimâ€™s has an excellent reputation in the area.
Allen Edmonds Co. in Port Washington, for example, sometimes asks the shop to re-sole dress shoes that it doesnâ€™t have time to repair.
â€śTheir turn around time is about 3 to 4 weeks and thatâ€™s too long for some people,â€ť he said. â€śWe usually take about 2 or 3 days. Theyâ€™ve been very nice in sending customers to us.â€ť
Although McDaniel has technically been employed since 1985, he has been around the business his entire life.
â€śWhen I was in school and had a day off, my mom would bring me in and I would do little things like vacuum,â€ť he said.
The way shoes have been made over the years has changed and McDaniel has adapted to it.
â€śWhen my grandfather was growing up, people had shoes repaired all the time,â€ť he said. â€śWith all the shoe companies now, people have 10, 15 pairs of shoes and they just donâ€™t get them repaired as often.â€ť
In his spare time, he helps coach volleyball at St. Joseph Parish School in Grafton, where his daughter Natalie is a seventh-grader.
He allows himself one week off a year in July to visit his in-laws in South Carolina.
Those interested in getting into the repair business donâ€™t have many options these days. There are very few schools that offer leather repair classes.
â€śMost people learn from their father or grandfather and just keep the business going,â€ť he said. â€śIâ€™ve seen a lot of older folks in the last 10 to 15 years who arenâ€™t doing it anymore and nobody wants to take it over.â€ť
With only two full-time employees, McDaniel works long days, staying open selling shoes until 9 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
While he doesnâ€™t plan on retiring any time soon, McDaniel realizes the future of the shop is uncertain.
â€śMy daughter comes in and helps out when she can, but we donâ€™t want to put a decision in her head,â€ť he said. â€śIf she comes to us some day and says she wants to do more, thatâ€™s fine. But we donâ€™t want to put anything on her.â€ť
The long days sometimes take a toll on McDaniel, but he keeps it all in perspective.
â€śIf you look not at the immediate future, but beyond what the bad day is and get through that, then itâ€™s easy,â€ť he said. â€śWeâ€™re fortunate that my grandfather thought ahead when he built this place. I just took over and kept going what he started.â€ť