- Associated Press - Sunday, February 26, 2017

SPARTANBURG, S.C. (AP) - Repairing shoes has been a perfect fit for Carl Rogers for the better part of 75 years.

The Spartanburg native, who celebrates his 90th birthday on Feb. 21, had only a fifth-grade education when he dropped out of school and learned to fix shoes at age 14.

Two decades later, Rogers took over The Heel Bar in the Pinewood Shopping Center on North Pine Street. In the 55 years since, the business has become a staple for not just shoe repairs, but handbag, luggage and belt fixes, too.

The successful shop opened on a prayer, Rogers said.

“I was in another shoe shop downtown, and I got down on my knees and prayed for the Lord to help me open up a bigger place,” he said. “I never dreamed where God would take us. And not a thing goes to my head . I’m just a plain old fella.”

Rogers and his brother started working on shoes alongside another businessman at a shop on Greene Street.

Shortly after, the brothers opened their own shop on Howard Street, a business that lasted about three years.

Rogers said he thought he wanted to sell shoes instead of repairing them. He held a few jobs as a shoe salesman, including a position at Sears.

“Sears gave me a job right over the phone,” Rogers said. “I was counted as one of the best shoe fitters in Spartanburg, is what they told me.”

It wasn’t long before Rogers returned to repairing shoes, becoming the manager of another Spartanburg shoe repair shop at age 17. A few months later, the owner decided to sell that business to Rogers.

The shop continued for about five years under Rogers‘ leadership before it moved to South Church Street.

Rogers‘ wife, Mary, said Pinewood Shopping Center had come to fruition, prompting investors to open The Heel Bar in 1962. The shop was first owned by S&S; Shirt Manufacturing.

“They were setting up a few shops in the Southeast and were going to have a large franchise, but it didn’t work out,” Mary Rogers said. “I went to the shopping center to see it and went home and told Carl about it.”

A single visit to The Heel Bar led to Carl Rogers moving his shoe repair machinery in to work at the shop.

Not long afterward, Rogers, then 35 years old, bought the shop for $4,000.

A man of many talents, Rogers was also an evangelist singer when he met Mary in 1951 at Arkwright Baptist Church. His eyes met hers during a revival, and he soon brought her home.

“We went together eight weeks and then we were married,” he said. “I was 24 and she was 17.”

This year the couple is celebrating their 65th year of marriage. They have four children - Kathy, Sheila, John and Amanda - along with six grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

While continuing to repair shoes, Rogers pursued his passion for music, signing at nine different churches as a minister of music for 50 years.

For several of those years, Mary was by his side as a pianist and singer. The couple sang duets together for 12 years at Young at Heart senior meetings in Spartanburg.

And when Rogers bought The Heel Bar all those years ago, he brought in Mary to help with repairs and clerical work.

“I taught her how to fix heels and the easier parts at first. She also kept the books, because I was uneducated,” he said. “She’s been here ever since.”

In 1995, Rogers sold The Heel Bar to his son, John, who also runs the adjoining Carolina Pedorthic office.

John, 54, essentially grew up in the shoe repair shop and learned the trade from his father.

“We had two big plastic plants to begin with, and when John got big enough he had to dust them,” Mary Rogers said. “He also helped to oil the machinery when he was 5 years old.”

Along with shoe repairs, John began creating custom-design inserts and orthopedic shoes after taking over the business.

Carl Rogers worked alongside his son for a few years before retiring in 1989.

“I’ve done a lot of things with a fifth-grade education,” Rogers said. “Most people thought I had a high school education, but I’m a self-made businessman.”

Mary still works part-time at The Heel Bar with Danny Pharaoh, the only full-time employee.

“I was in New York repairing shoes before coming here,” Pharaoh said. “I’ve been doing it for 32 years and love it. We provide fast service and reasonable prices.”

Customer service and affordability is what has sustained The Heel Bar and kept customers coming back, Mary Rogers said.

“We’ve tried to treat other people like we would want to be treated,” she said. “I’ve had customers tell me that we make them feel like family.”

Over the decades, those customers have included politicians, business leaders, doctors, lawyers and people from all walks of life. Some have things repaired because they have to make them last, and others have things repaired because they bought the best and want to take care of it, Mary Rogers said.

The shop also has customers who first visited as children alongside their parents.

“Very few weeks go by that we don’t have an adult come in and say, ‘I remember being here when I was just a child and I could hardly see over the counter,’” Mary Rogers said.

Many of the shop’s regular customers continue to travel from out of town to have their shoes and handbags repaired at The Heel Bar, she said. People drive from Greenville, Clemson and Gaffney, plus Tryon and Shelby in North Carolina.

“We’re the only full-service shoe repair in a 75-mile radius of Spartanburg,” Mary Rogers said. “There are other shoe repair places, but they don’t do it all.”

Looking back over his seven decades in the shoe repair industry, Carl Rogers said he was a workaholic but enjoyed it all. Even ice on the roads didn’t stop him from going into work.

“The only thing I had trouble with was the girls coming in and flirting with me,” he said.


Information from: Herald-Journal, https://www.goupstate.com/

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