- Associated Press - Monday, May 8, 2017

EL PASO, Texas (AP) - Javier Rodriguez is comfortable in a room full of old, worn out, smelly shoes.

The El Paso Times (https://bit.ly/2qsWwvf ) reports his small East Side shop is bursting at the seams with shoes and the robust scents of dye, polish and glue.

He can’t think of any other way to spend his day.

Rodriguez, owner of Texas Boot and Shoe Repair at 10781 Pebble Hills Blvd., has been repairing shoes for 46 years.

“When I was a kid I would work with my dad at his downtown shop, so I grew up around it,” Rodriguez said. “My dad started the business in 1959 and at that time there were about 10 shoe repair shops in Downtown El Paso alone.”

Rodriquez, 56, and his brother are third-generation cobblers. They love making what’s old new again, or at least “like new.”

“I had to learn his trade. It was mandatory, it wasn’t a choice,” Javier Rodriguez said. “It was something my dad made us do to keep us off the street.”

His brother, Fernie Rodriguez, 59, opened his Texas Boot and Shoe Repair at Northgate in 1982. He has been at his current location at 4717 Hondo Pass Dr. for eight years.

“This is what I know,” he said. “This is who I am. People are surprised when I tell them that I repair shoes. We are one in a thousand nowadays. We do it because our father did it, and his father did it before him. My son doesn’t want to do it, and Javier’s son doesn’t want to do it, so it’s really becoming a lost art.”

Fernie and Javier Rodriguez where taught by their father, Salvador, who died in January. Their father was taught by Santiago, their grandfather.

Javier Rodriguez said cobbling is a dying art because of today’s throw-away society.

“They use a lot synthetics when making shoes nowadays,” he said. “You can buy really cheap shoes that are all synthetic and they’re not even worth repairing because of the material they use to construct the shoes.”

He said it’s sometimes cheaper to buy a $30 pair of shoes instead of paying twice as much to have them repaired.

“But when you get a pair of nice leather shoes or boots in your hands, it’s very satisfying to know what you started with and what the end result is. We get to see the end product right away and that’s very satisfying.”

Javier Barrios at the Most Popular Shoe Repair shop at 501 Texas Ave. Downtown has been a zapatero for 40 years.

“When I was in high school, my teacher was related to a man who was repairing shoes in the basement of the Popular Department Store (downtown) and he taught me how to do it,” Barrios said. “I worked there for 18 years before I opened my shop on Texas 21 years ago.”

Barrios, 56, said he has also seen a decrease in business over the years.

“People just don’t want to repair their shoes anymore,” he said. “Plus, there’s not a lot of people who want to learn this trade anymore.”

“I could advertise and get more people in the shop, but I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the work,” Barrios continued. “There’s just not much help out there. Right now it’s just me so I have a little bit more business than I can keep up with but not enough to hire or teach somebody what I do.”

He said he would continue to work as long as his hands do.

“I love what I do,” Barrios said. “I speak with many different people from many different backgrounds, that’s what keeps the job interesting. You’re never doing the same thing, you’re always doing something different. That’s what makes it fun. I won’t retire until my hands won’t allow me to work anymore.”

Mark Miller, owner of Miller Boot and Shoe Repair at 9627 Sims Dr., said people are blown away when he tells them he works on shoes.

“They don’t realize that shoes can be repaired,” Miller, 55, said. “A lot of people never thought about fixing a pair of shoes. They just buy a new pair.”

Miller Boot and Shoe Repair has been around since Miller’s grandfather, Ben Miller, started it in 1969 at the corner of McRae Boulevard and Wedgewood Drive. The business was there until 2013 when Miller moved across the street after CVS Pharmacy purchased the lot.

Miller offers shoe dying, shoe polishing, modification lifts, foot soles and heel replacement and leather repair for purses, jackets and belts.

“I’m one of only about six, if that, shops that offer full-service shoe repair,” he said. “A lot of the shoes are so inexpensive now that people just throw them away and buy new ones. It’s cheap goods that are flooding our country.”

Miller learned the repair business from his grandfather Ben, and the manufacturing end from his father Ben Jr.

He fully understands the love affair people have with their shoes.

“I’ve seen some shoes where we have to put them underground,” he said. “They are so bad, we just can’t help them anymore. Sometimes it’s hard for people to break in a new pair of shoes so they just keep on repairing them. There is something about a well-worn shoe. People love them, they don’t want to give them up.”

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Information from: El Paso Times, https://www.elpasotimes.com


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