In Marketplace

Bruce Cziske of Shoe Healers says salt is a shoe's worst enemy in winter. (PHOTO: Eron Laber of Front Room Photography)

In Marketplace

Shoe artisans bare soles about repair business

Shoe repair shops have become scarce in a day when throwaway shoes, sneakers and sandals have squeezed out finer footwear.

Two shoe artisans have not only survived, but at times, have more business than they can handle: Greg Martens of Olde Town Cobbler in Wauwatosa and Bruce Cziske of Shoe Healers in Brookfield. Here are a few words of wisdom from these old pros:

It's salt, not the snow, that is a pair of shoes' worst enemy in the winter...
It's actually the salt that damages leather shoes, not the water per se, says Cziske. Clean snow won't necessarily hurt leather, as long as you dry your shoes without using heat. Cziske says a remedy for getting salt stains out is to use a mixture of one-third vinegar and two-thirds water.

...and dogs are a pair of shoes' worst enemy the rest of the year.
Cziske sees two or three dog-eaten shoes per week, but in most cases the damage is so bad he tells the customer it's not worth the cost of fixing them.

I thought boots were made for walking?
So did Martens, but his experience suggests that boots are used for other things as well. "I've reached into a pair of boots and found women's lingerie on numerous occasions." Bikers seem to be particularly attached to their boots says Martens, bringing them in chewed up and even bloodied from motorcycle accidents.

The first rule of shoe care: waterproof, waterproof, waterproof.
Martens recommends liberally applying waterproofing spray to shoes. "You can't hurt the shoe, and you can't overdo it." Waterproofing protects against both salt and dirt. Martens says suede and nubuck shoes should be waterproofed regularly, while leather shoes should be both waterproofed and polished.

High heels were not made for a certain Summerfest tradition.
Every July Martens gets young women who bring in a pair of broken high heels. After a little cajoling, they usually admit to Martens that the damage occurred while dancing on the picnic tables at Summerfest.

There's one type of customer who is hard to take seriously.
For both Martens and Cziske it's the clowns who come in with their oversized shoes. "It's strange when the guy comes in and you go 'First name?' and the response is 'Flowers' or 'Happy Harry,'" says Cziske.

Shoe repair is not just for a pair of Cole Haans or Allen-Edmonds.
The cost to repair a pair of shoes from K-Mart is the same as it would be for a pair of Allen-Edmonds says Martens, so the majority of his work is in high-end shoes. But he points out that heel replacement is inexpensive and can be worth it even for moderately-priced shoes (new heels start at $16 a pair for men's shoes and $8 for women's).

More expensive repairs, like a heel and sole replacement ($45 to $65), are usually reserved for the shoes priced $150 and up, but not always, according to Martens. "We get some people with just average-quality shoes, but they are so attached to them that to them a repair rather than disposal is worth it."

Shoe repair shops are a dying breed...
"In 25 years I've seen 40 shops close in Milwaukee," says Martens. "There are just more cheap, imported shoes that aren't worth repairing at all. We service the customer who buys the better shoes, and there are fewer of them."

Cziske says the MATC shoe training program from which he graduated in the 1970s has since shut down due to the decline in the number of shoe repair shops.

....which is probably good news for the shops that are still in business.
"Business is good. Sometimes business is too good," says Cziske, who fixes up to 300 pairs in a week. "I pretty much live here." Cziske is now so backed up with his shoe trade that he refers almost all other work, such as purses and luggage, to shops that specialize in leather repair.

"It used to be seasonal, fall and spring, but there are so few shops and such a demand that it's consistently busy all year long," says Martens, who puts in up to 70 hours a week at his shop.

Greg Martens' Olde Town Cobbler is located at 806 N. 68th St., (414) 771-8190. Bruce Cziske's Shoe Healers shop can be found in the V. Richards Plaza on Bluemound Rd., (262) 786-5115.

Other shoe repair shops in the Milwaukee area:
Ace Shoe Clinic, Bayshore Mall, (414) 332-4300
The Bay Cobbler, 3979 S. Howell Ave., (414) 482-0076
Capitol Shoe Repair, 7448 W. Capitol Dr., (414) 463-5083
Cobbler Corner West Shoe Service, 13475 Watertown Plank Rd., (262) 784-7463
Cobbler Corner Shoe Service, 827 W. Oklahoma Ave., (414) 747-1154
Ed's, 184 W. Wisconsin Ave., (414) 271-4715
Ed's Shoe Service, 9104 W. Greenfield Ave., (414) 453-8120
Grange Shoe Repair, 2724 W. Grange Ave., (414) 281-9160
Ideal Shoe Repair, 2425 N. Martin Luther King Dr., (414) 372-4252
Jeff's Shoe Repair, 3438 N. 84th St., (414) 444-6500
John's Shoe Service, 7506 W. Greenfield Ave., (414) 259-0380
Michael's Footwear, 5427 S. Highway 100, (414) 425-3260
Mickey's Shoe Repair, 4012 N. 42nd St., (414) 442-2000
Mike's Shoe and Luggage Repair, 4275 W. Layton Ave., (414) 325-6787
Nick's Shoe Repair and Alterations, 5708 W. Vliet St., (414) 258-5240
RJ's Shoe Repair, 5345 W. Forest Home Ave., 545-9009
Schmittner Bros. Shoe Service and Golf Bag Repair, 7724 W. Burleigh St., 871-7181
Shorewood Shoe Repair Shop, 3815 N. Oakland Ave., 962-6060
Tommy's Shoe Repair, 8828 N. Pt. Washington Rd., 228-8181
Village Shoe Repair, 1214 W. Wells St., 276-4584


Abattoir | Jan. 17, 2008 at 4:10 p.m. (report)

Thanks to the aforementioned "shoe artisan" at Olde Town Cobbler in Wauwatosa, I now have to send my shoes to Brooks Shoe Repair in Chicago for a $54 repair. After a re-reheel job from one month prior (they wore out in a month from moderate wear, and yes, I had to pay twice) the stacked heel leather wrap was inexplicably removed from the heels of my vintage boots and a dark wood stain or sealant was slapped on its place.

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