The soda jerk, the full-service filling station and the Commercial Café — all distant memories for those old enough to remember downtown Laurinburg toward the middle of the last century.
Some are now wondering if another folksy staple, the cobbler’s (or “shoe fixery” as it is known to locals), is set to suffer a similar fate.
With the recent death of the shop owner and shoe repairman, Samuel Massey, the Laurinburg Downtown Revitalization Corporation has joined forces with the building’s owner in an attempt to save the business.
LDRC President Jim Willis and new owner Garland Pierce hope that by offering a new opportunity in an ancient trade to an individual motivated to have their own business, shoe repair can remain alive in the city’s central business district.
“It’s vanishing Americana. It’s a vanishing service skill in the Walmart world,” Willis said, describing the potential loss of the shoe repair business and its built-in nostalgia. “It’s going away, and it’s exactly what we need to keep downtown.”
A holdover from an era of Main Street-centric living in Laurinburg, the downtown shoe repair shop has been operated by a several owners through the decades, last by Massey, who died at age 72 in January.
The last few items Massey worked on remain in the shop, and Pierce has invited those with unclaimed property to visit Main Street Shoe Repair to retrieve them. The shop is at 146 N. Main Street.
Still populated with classic (but functional, assures Pierce) shoe repair and shoe shining machinery, the shop is ready for the right person to step in and try the work on for size.
Both Pierce and Willis believe it could become a profitable business again.
“All the equipment is there. Everything you need. You could establish a shoe repair and shoe shining clientele, do leather repair work – all of that out of here. All I would be looking for is the rent,” said Pierce, a state lawmaker from Wagram.
According to Willis, the lack of overhead and the niche nature of the work is what makes the opportunity so appealing.
“Could you make a living? The answer is ‘yes.’ Your expenses will be low, the overhead is limited, you have a supportive building owner, and it is labor. You just need somebody that’s willing to work.”
The primary obstacle, and the reason that someone with the proper work ethic could not walk in off the street and go to work, is the esoteric nature of the trade itself.
“We are so blessed to have RCC and their training opportunities in this community, but they aren’t teaching shoe repair,” Willis said.
Pierce said that an apprenticeship at a shoe repair shop that he is familiar with in a nearby county could teach someone all they needed to know to hit the ground running.
“It would be classic (on the job) training,” Pierce said. And the time spent with a veteran cobbler could also serve as a trial, weeding out those not cut out for or truly interested in the opportunity.
With Pierce’s building on the list for LDRC frontage repairs and the support of the whole of downtown, Willis said that the timing could not be better for the right man or woman to take over.
“LDRC would be willing to help anyway we could,” Willis said.