A woman who recently opened a shoe repair shop in North Wilkesboro is an anomaly in an industry dominated by men.
It’s unique for anyone to repair shoes for a living these days.
IBISWorld, which conducts industry research, estimated that there are fewer than 4,000 such businesses in the United States. The Shoe Service Institute of America reported that there were over 100,000 shoe repair shops nationwide in the 1930s.
Patti Miller said she has been swamped with customers since opening Patti’s Leather & Shoe Repair in a brick building that formerly was a beauty salon at 517 Elkin Hwy on Jan. 17.
“I’ve been busier than a one-armed paper hanger. And it’s been a good mix,” she added in an interview in late January.
When interviewed, Miller’s 100-plus repair “projects” to do included stretching footwear; attaching new soles and reattaching old soles; freeing stuck zippers; restoring damaged leather and suede; hand sewing and machine sewing, including with patches; and replacing hooks, eyelets and snaps. Cowboy boot repairs account for much of her work.
“Department store shoes aren’t made to be repaired,” said Miller, adding that this doesn’t necessarily mean they can’t be fixed. “They’re also making them to be biodegradable, but it’s really so you’ll have to buy new ones.”
Miller can order materials for repairing various products, including new soles for different types of shoes. The extent and cost of work depends on condition.
Her shop is equipped with equipment from the mid 1900s, including a machine that secures heels with nails from outside footwear and another from inside footwear after heels are attached with glue. It has a machine with settings to trim replacement soles to fit shoes correctly.
She has heavy duty sewing equipment and devices for stretching footwear that is too narrow.
Miller said her work is peaceful and rewarding. She noted the importance of having “an eye for contours and shaping things as they originally appeared.”
A man came into the shop with badly-worn Birkenstock sandals that were a gift from his mother 20 years ago. “I restored the nap in the leather and replaced the cork footbed and rubber soles. “He was so happy,” she said.
Her projects have ranged from repairing motorcycle chaps and leather medicine balls for exercise to making leather axe head covers.
Miller said she has sent projects she couldn’t do to Wyatt & Dad Cobbler Co., with locations in Winston-Salem, Durham and Charlotte.
Miller, 59, started early as a cobbler (a person who repairs shoes) but had other jobs for about 40 years before returning. At age 15, she went to work in a shoe repair shop in Royal Oak. Mich. Within the next five years, she and her family moved to Ohio and opened a shoe repair shop. Miller also got married and had children,
This was followed by jobs as a waitress, bank teller and call center representative before she moved here with her second husband in 2014. She said her husband, a truck driver, fell in love with northwestern North Carolina’s scenery and people while making deliveries in the 1990s.
Miller said she was working at the PVH Distribution Center in Jonesville when she perceived God nudging her to open a shoe repair shop. She opened the shop in Elkin in July 2020, left PVH and then she and her husband became sick with COVID-19.
Her husband died from COVID on Aug. 29, 2021, and Miller nearly died when a pickup hit the motorcycle she was operating in October 2021, two weeks after she reopened the shoe shop in Elkin. “God had a lot of work for me still to do. It wasn’t my time to go home,” she said.
Miller said she received vital help and support during this difficult time from her church, Celebration Church on Boone Trail, North Wilkesboro.
She said that instead of returning to Ohio, where her six children live, she moved her home and shoe repair business to North Wilkesboro to be closer to her church family at Celebration.
Hours for Patti’s Leather & Shoe Repair are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and 9 a.m. to noon Friday. The phone number is 336-468-0211.
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