Modern day sole man

POLISHED: Snavley polishes a shoe in his store. (Pioneer photo/Josh Roesner)

POLISHED: Snavley polishes a shoe in his store. (Pioneer photo/Josh Roesner)

BIG RAPIDS — Sam Snavley did not start working in shoe repair until he was 50, but it has turned into a productive business for the former machinist.

Snavley, who owns City Shoe Hospital, 223 Maple St. in Big Rapids, is a lifelong resident of the Mecosta County area. Prior to working in shoe repair, Snavley worked at FRS in Big Rapids for 30 years. It was through his brother he learned about Jackson’s intent to find someone to take over the business.

“I worked with Tom for about two months (prior to working alone),” Snavley said. “I always enjoyed working with my hands … Its just easy for me to do, it’s something I picked up quick.”

Since Janice Archer and Snavley purchased the business from former owner Tom Jackson two and a half years ago, business has remained strong.

“I probably go through two shelves (worth of items) a day,” Snavley said.

Due to the number of requested repairs made each day, the turnaround time on most jobs is between 10 days to two weeks. However, if a customer comes in with a repair that can be done quickly, they can usually get it done the same day, Archer said.

“We probably do five on-the-spot jobs per day,” she said. “We never turn anybody down for an on-the-spot fix or small glue job.”

TOOLS OF THE TRADE: While the store may look disorganized, Snavley knows where every tool and item in need of repair is. (Pioneer photo/Josh Roesner)

TOOLS OF THE TRADE: While the store may look disorganized, Snavley knows where every tool and item in need of repair is. (Pioneer photo/Josh Roesner)

Snavley handles the sewing and heavy-duty repairs, while Archer preps shoes for work as needed.

“That’s one of the most interesting things about working here, seeing how this whole process works,” Archer said.

Compared to 20 years ago, both Snavley and Archer have noticed a decline in the quality of shoes and boots.

“Most (of the decline) has to do with the soles, not the quality of the leather on the upper,” Archer said. “Other than that, most boots are made the same.”

A shoe’s sole can be replaced several times before the upper is no longer able to be re-attached. Archer recalled the case of one man who brought in a pair of boots to have the sole reattached for the tenth time. However, that’s far more than is normal, Snavley noted.

“If I sew to the welt too many times then it’s (ruined) because you’re poking holes in it every time you sew, and you don’t always hit the same hole,” he said. “Three to four times is probably the limit.”

The best way to maintain a leather shoe, Archer added, is to keep the leather clean, salt-free and well-conditioned.

Jackson worked at the store for more than 40 years, and many of his customers still return on a regular basis. The new customers are much easier to spot, Archer said.

“We don’t take credit cards here (for repairs), so when people whip out a debit card, we know they are a new customer because Tom never took a card,” she said. “A lot of people also say, ‘I’ve never been here.’ That’s one of the best parts of this job, is getting to know people.

“We get lots of repeat customers. Many, many, many of them come in here all the time. And they’re not only bringing shoes now they know what we’re capable of.”

Besides shoe repair, Snavley also has worked on some unusual items, such as a spinning wheel, outdoor umbrellas from Ferris — which had to be worked on outside because they were too big to open indoors — and a hang glider.

“You just do not know what’s going to walk through that door,” Archer said. “I would have never dreamed of repairing a shoe, it never even crossed my mind. I had many sandals myself, where the toe came out and I was like, ‘Oh, I got to toss it away.’ Now, that’s all changed.”

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