On a frontage road in Glenwood Springs, across from the John Deere dealership and tucked beside an auto repair shop, is Glenwood Shoe Service, where owners Joel and Cindy Fisher resole shoes and repair purses, practicing the dying art of cobblery.
Say you’ve got a favorite pair of shoes. They fit your feet perfectly, and you’ve had them for years. Maybe you’ve worn them for so long, in fact, you’re starting to be able to see your socks through the gaps in the soles. Glenwood Shoe Service is your only option for getting them repaired in the Roaring Fork Valley.
And as I walk in the small shop, I'm a little self-conscious of my worn flip-flops, because it's clear all kinds of shoes walk through Joel and Cindy Fisher’s front door.
“We’ve got some Gucci’s up there, some Jimmy Choo’s, we get everything,” Cindy said as she pointed to their overloaded shelves.
Velvet pumps sit next to work boots, still caked with mud. There are cowboy boots: Delicately embroidered ones from Aspen’s Kemosabe retail shop, and scuffed pairs from actual cowboys in Parachute.
Last year, Theatre Aspen brought in dance shoes for the entire cast of "Hairspray."
"All their shoes came in wrong. The wrong soles on ‘em. So they were in a bind. You know, they needed to wear them in dress rehearsal and everything, and they needed a bunch of them as fast as possible, so I worked one weekend and got those done and, you know...the show must go on," shrugged Joel.
Joel spends most of his time on the heavy machinery in the back. I watched him carefully grind down the heel of a black leather boot on a huge sander. I asked him if he gets hurt.
"Fairly regularly," he said
Cindy works in the front, on smaller repairs, hand-cranking a black Singer sewing machine.
“If we had it hooked up to electricity, it would go so fast we couldn’t control it, so it’s got this handle so we can run it manually,” she said.
This was not a career the Fishers expected. One day, while Cindy was perusing the Glenwood Post Independent’s classifieds, she chanced upon an ad that the shop was for sale.
“That was during the recession, so I wasn’t working, and I told Cindy I thought I’d go in and see if I could buy that,” said Joel.
Cindy sewed her own curtains, and Joel had shoed horses as a blacksmith, but the two had no experience in cobblery. Before taking over, they trained with former owner David Stover, who had run the shop for 40 years.
That was six years ago now, and the Fishers guess they’ve repaired nearly 2,000 pairs of shoes since then. They say they’ve just about seen it all in that time. I looked over Cindy’s shoulder at one job, a handbag with a loose strap. The owner tried some do-it-yourself repair before bringing it in.
"Oh, this is a mess. And this is things that people do, too, is they try to put stuff together themselves and they’ll use staples. They do all kinds of crazy stuff. And duct tape is really common, too."
Joel said that while he can’t believe the condition of some of the shoes that people bring in, he understands people are attached to their shoes for reasons that go way beyond physical comfort.
“I have even young fellas that come in here that are wearing their grandpa’s boots, and they just want to keep them going a little longer,” he said.
The Fishers said it feels rewarding to help people keep a beloved pair of shoes going. And Joel’s favorite job is putting lifts in the shoes of kids who have legs of different lengths.
“If I’m able to work with them and get the angles right, so that it feels normal, and make it look as natural as possible, so that it doesn’t stick out, because people are usually self-conscious, they’re very appreciative,” he said.
Joel and Cindy don’t know what will happen to their shop when they retire. Joel doubts if someone younger who wants to make money would want to take the time to learn how to be a cobbler.
“It’s more of an art. There’s nothing really to attract a young person unless they’re an old soul," he said.
They’re not surprised that the number of cobblers is dwindling. Fashion is changing; more and more people are buying cheap items and wearing them for a short time, then casting them away.
Joel said his profession is up against this “throwaway culture," but he still loves how he’s able to help people.
“Because it’s what connects people to the ground. Everyone has a style of shoes they feel best in and that’s their connection to the earth,” he said.
The Fishers plan to continue to help Western slope residents feel their best in their favorite shoes, whether they’re steel-toed, or high-heeled.