Anyone Know a Good Cobbler?

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I was having a set of keys cut in a local cobbler yesterday and couldn’t take my eyes off the guy resoling shoes. He banged in the nails on the new shoe with abandon, filed off the edges of the leather while barely looking at it and then threw (yes, threw) the completed shoe onto the shelf above him.

It landed on a mound of similarly maltreated shoes, a few ladies’ heels sticking out from between a dozen black brogues. It looked like a mound of stricken corpses. You could almost hear the pain inflicted by his whining machinery.

These high-street cobblers barely deserve the name. (They certainly are nothing close to cordwainers – the old English term for makers of shoes.) But then what should you expect from someone who is equally adept at cutting keys, dry cleaning and resoling?

But there aren’t many other options. If you want a good pair of shoes resoling or reconstructing, your only choice is a high-street butcher or the original manufacturer. And the latter is likely to be prohibitively expensive – possibly involving the shipping of the shoes to France or Italy (it’s even worse for US readers, who might have to send them to Northampton as well).

This service is undoubtedly worth it if you want the shoes reconstructing, with new welts and linings etc. But it’s a little excessive just for a new sole.

I asked Steven Taffel of Leffot in New York for advice on this but without any luck. Apparently the problem is similar in the US – nothing in the middle ground.

Steven suggested I try Dean Girling (of Gaziano & Girling) to ask his advice. Dean’s best suggestion was to send them to his team, one of whom would be happy to reconstruct a shoe. This is useful and more local, but doesn’t really solve the problem.

“The problem is there just aren’t any high-quality cobblers out there any more,” said Dean. “My father still does a lot of that work but he’s in his sixties now and has more work than he can handle. It seems there isn’t the volume of retail demand for high-quality work.”

So this is a request for recommendations from the readership. There must be some good cobblers out there that I can feel confident giving my JM Westons to for a new heel. It doesn’t matter where you live, any recommendations would be gladly received.

[I also need to find somewhere that sells tongue pads that you stick to the bottom of the shoe’s tongue – it helps tighten the top of the shoe when the leather has expanded over time.]


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Simon Crompton is a journalist and a style enthusiast living in London, who blogs at permanentstyle.blogspot.com. He has too many suits.

Comments

  1. Alan says:

    Great column! I live here in San Francisco and I can’t find a decent cobbler. This is inexcusable. As you say, virtually all places are an assembly line with no concern for quality work.

    I’ve never tried this place but the owner appears on the clothing forums. Cobblestone Shoe Repair in St. Louis. The owner seems very knowledgeable and I plan on sending my next major repair to his shop. So sad as I live in a major city and can’t find a decent cobbler.

    It will be worth the mailing cost to have it done right.

  2. David Valenta says:

    When all shoes had leather soles people would take them to a shoe repair shop for re-soling. Now, when reglueing a rubber sole on a cheap pair of shoes can cost as much as a new pair, why bother.
    Like finding a good alterations tailor, finding a good shoe repair shop is getting more and more difficult.

  3. Wearit.com says:

    It’s nice that men’s shoes last much longer than women’s shoes. I’ve found the best way to deal with rundown shoes is to send the back to the place you bought them from. I recommend larger retailers, like Saks or Neiman Marcus. When you’re a devoted client, they’ll often give you a new pair of shoes for free or for the cost of repairing the shoe.

  4. Jenna says:

    In Florence you will find the best if you can get there.

  5. Simon Crompton says:

    Interesting comment, Wearit. Is it not a shame to take a new pair of shoes when you’ve spent all that time polishing the upper and wearing it to your shape? Not that a new pair of shoes wouldn’t be tempting!

    Unfortunately I don’t live in Florence or St Louis. Anyone know a good cobbler in London?

  6. Brinley says:

    There’s a great cobbler on City Road (Old Street tube), called something very obvious, such as City Cobbler. I’m almost certain that they’re not the sort of people to bother having a website (they probably don’t have a phone in the shop), but they do care about shoes… Walk towards Shepherdess Walk from the tube station and you’ll pass it on your right.

  7. sleats says:

    Had a pair of shoes that i bought from r & b that needed to be ‘fixed’. popped into their bond street branch and when returned they had had the insides reclad in white leather……. horror! find a good cobbler and stick to them!

  8. Ted B. (Charging Rhino) says:

    Here in the suburban hinterlands it’s nearly hopeless to even find a decent shoe-repairman…I wouldn’t dignify any of them with the ancient title of “cobbler”. …And their prices are outrageous; $45 for new heels on a pair of ordinary Dockers rubber-soled dress/casual shoes? And I had to take my LLBean hunting boots back three-times before he got all the lumps and divots out after resoling them in Vibram.

    The best solution here is going to the rural farmers’ market in the adjacent county and visiting the Amish shoe- and harness-maker there. His shop’s the only one I trust anymore to resole and/or re-heel my very comfortable and broken-in cowboy boots and workboots. And he’s been very helpful with dress shoe heels…even resoling my favorite boatshoes.