Page last updated at 17:08 GMT, Sunday, 22 February 2009

US cobblers cash in on recession

By Andy Gallacher
BBC News, Miami

The Star shoes and boots repair shop on Miami's Washington Avenue has the kind of back room that looks like it belongs in a museum.

Rafael Ortiz, Miami cobbler
Miami cobblers are benefitting from the economic downturn

Huge metal machines that spin on leather belts and look like parts of an old steam train are labouring more than they have in years.

Business here and at cobblers across the United States is good.

"If you compare this year with last year, it's a lot better," says Robert Suarez, who helps run the shop.

"People are appreciating what we can do. I think its going to get better every month."

The recession has rapidly changed how people are spending and saving their money and Kelly Watson is a typical customer.

She came into the shop clutching her favourite boots.

When she bought them new they were $1,000 (695). Now they either need to be replaced or fixed.


For Ms Watson, the choice is obvious.

"Now I'd rather fix them because we don't know what's going to happen with our economy. I can't waste $1,000 on a pair of shoes. Everyone's being thrifty these days."

Her total bill for fixing, shining and resoling her precious boots will be around $40.

Nobody can afford anything anymore and you're trying to fix what you have instead of buying new products
Ciel Phukay

The number of people who can actually work the spinning machines that drive nails into shoe soles and stitch leather uppers together has been dwindling for decades.

But now the ancient art of being a cobbler is making a comeback.

According to the Shoe Service Institute of America, it is also good for the environment when people get their shoes fixed.

The shoe repair industry apparently keeps 62m pairs of shoes out of landfills every year.

But for Ciel Phukay, it is not the environment that concerns her.

"Its a difficult time for everybody. Nobody can afford anything anymore and you're trying to fix what you have instead of buying new products."


Ms Phukay has been coming to the shop in Miami for months.

"Thank God there are places like this so you can get all your little gadgets fixed," she says, holding a handbag that needs a new strap.

The Star shoes and boots repair shop has never had it so good.

Both the cobbler and the tailor are working long days, while most people in the US are worried about keeping their jobs.

This is a tiny industry but one that is now going through something of a boom.

The recession could just be responsible for the resurgence of the American cobbler.

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