Standing in his workshop surrounded by dozen of machineries, different types of shoe soles, and accessories, Richard Foens, owner of Smitty’s Shoe Repair, fixes about 30-50 pairs of shoes a day on average.
Foens says that things are different today compared to when he first started fixing shoes about sixty years ago.
“When I started it was a three-year-apprentice program. It was understood that you work three years and it was no pay. But then, you had a skill. You had a profession when you got done,” Foens explains.
As he works on a machine that sews the sole to the insides of the shoes, he points out that he only knows of two shops in Iowa that still do this kind of repairing – his own, and another shoe repairing shop in Des Moines.
The ways of repairing shoes that he learned at his father’s shoe repair shop are slowly disappearing.
He uses a cement press to secure new soles on the shoes, making sure they are tightly glued together.
“I’m not sure if other shops uses cement press,” he says, pointing out that he is pretty old-fashioned.
At 74 years-old, Foens still comes into work around 7 a.m. on the weekdays, despite having open-heart surgery nine years ago.
“I like what I do. This is what I call a hobby that pays the bills and it has worked out really well for us,” he explains. “I am the third generation involved in the shoe business in my family. I think I’ll probably be the last in the family as well.”