The day is February 17th, and Garret Williams is celebrating his 5th year as owner of Mr. Vans Shoe Repair.
Walking into the shop, I see shoes.
Lots and lots of shoes.
This should be obvious, but never having brought a pair of shoes to a cobbler or knowing anyone who has, I expected to walk into a bare, struggling shop held together by cobwebs and dust.
“How’s business?” I ask.
“Business is good,” says Williams. I admit to him that surprises me.
“Until people stop wearing shoes, they will need someone to fix them,” he says.
Shoe repair has been a profession since the invention of shoes, but in a disposable culture that offers footwear cheap enough to be thrown away, the cobbler’s craft is a dying one.
That makes Williams’ age even more surprising.
“I’m 26,” he says. “I liked the idea of turning a shoe that is messed up and making it wearable again so someone can enjoy it, especially if it’s sentimental. People bring in shoes and boots I’ve never seen before in a condition I’ve never seen before. It’s like a puzzle. A big puzzle.”
It’s obvious by now that “Garret Williams isn’t “Mr. Van”.
“I originally met the previous owner, Gerry Heiser, across the street at Court Street Grill because he had closed and I wanted to buy some of his equipment,” says Williams. “And he said, ‘Why don’t you just buy the business?’”
Williams says that decision was one of the best he’s made. Heiser had accumulated happy customers over his thirty-year career in shoe repair, and that client base gave Williams a running start.
”Keeping the name meant I could keep the clients,” he says. “That gave me a better start than starting from scratch.”
I ask him what he’s learned since he’s opened.
“The toughest job I’ve ever done was for a woman who wanted me to tear apart hear vintage Gucci suitcase and turn it into a tote bag.
I was nervous. It was vintage and expensive, and it was my first year being down and owning my own business. So I was like, ‘If I’m gonna fail, I’m gonna fail forward.’ So I just started tearing apart the seams and made my own template for an over-the-shoulder tote bag.
That’s the biggest thing I’ve learned in my five years of being in business. Just keep plugging away. Failing forward. Moving ahead.”