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Shoe repair shop's heritage is hand-crafted

  • Story Highlights
  • Shoe-repair business is a trade and a tradition in small Massachusetts shop
  • Repairman cites economic downturn as factor in current uptick in his trade
  • It's far more economical to have shoes repaired rather than buying new ones
  • Some customers have been coming to shoe-repair shop for years
By Bob Crowley
CNN
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NORTH ATTLEBOROUGH, Massachusetts (CNN) -- Ron Hassell stares at one really worn-out brown leather loafer.

Hassell uses a hammer on a shoe. There are not a lot of cobblers left in his area, he says.

Ron Hassell has seen his share of heels. And soles. His grandfather taught him the shoe-repair trade.

"This is a shoe I don't want to tackle," he grimaces as his finger traces holes on the bottom. "I tried to talk the guy out of fixing it, believe it or not."

The cobbler grabs a tool to rip off the entire sole. "Some guys get a favorite pair of shoes. ... as you can tell, this guy wore this one to death."

He brings one of the shoes to a grinder that files down the last of the old sole and heel. "It'll look brand new when I'm done," Hassell says.

Hassell's shoe repair business, tucked into the corner of a three-story building in downtown North Attleborough, Massachusetts, is a trade and a tradition.

The shop he now owns, North Shoe Repair, once belonged to his grandfather, who taught him everything he knows about being a cobbler.

"He was one of the best," Ron says, and he knows this because that's what all the salesmen -- the ones who sold products to all the local shoe repair shops -- would tell him.

There are not a lot of cobblers left in the area, but Hassell's business has been steady and has even picked up in the last year. He sees the economy as one reason. It's far more economical to spend $12.50 on a pair of $125 shoes than to buy new ones.

Hassell, however, sees another reason for being busy. With few young people entering the trade, customers seek out cobblers when theirs retire.

"I used to be the youngest that I knew of, because I started when I was twenty. Of course I'm close to fifty now, and I'm still probably one of the youngest around here." Video Watch the craftsman at work »

He continues to work on the really beat-up pair he didn't want to face. He uses special cutting and sewing machines to attach new leather to the bottom. Glue is pasted onto parts and the grinding machine is visited several times, both to sand off rough edges and later to polish them to a shine. He'll go back and forth to the various shoes that have been brought in and stop to wait on people bringing in his next challenge to repair.

His customers seem satisfied with the results they get, and some have been loyal to his business for years.

"I came when his grandfather was here," says Inez Cavallaro, who had come to the shop to pick up a pair of sandals Hassell had fixed. "I hope he always stays here, because he's great.

"He has done some magical things for me."

The comments don't go unnoticed by Hassell. "You know, what's pretty cool is, customers, they get pretty happy. You get that all the time, and it makes you feel good."

Using an old shoe brush to polish what had started the day as a hopeless pair of old shoes, Hassell puts the final touches on what now look like shoes just bought from a store.

"Better than I thought they were going to come out," he says, looking them over one last time.

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Hassell says he enjoys his craft because he knows what he does is appreciated. As one customer leaves his shop and says goodbye, she stops in the door and turns around. She looks back at Hassell and says, "Don't go out of business, now!"

As long as he can, that's something Ron Hassell has no intention of doing.

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