I’ll Kick Off My Heels, You Kick Up Your Heels

I’ll Kick Off My Heels, You Kick Up Your Heels

I stepped out of blaring noise of the wedding into the cool night air of the suburbs. Though presumably still in New York State, I wasn’t the one who drove, and couldn’t have sworn to my location. My ride told us to stay put while he got the car, so I was trying to spot the Big Dipper in the sky – impossible with the country club’s outdoor lighting – when I heard someone right behind me say that she had to thank me.

“I’ve been wanting to thank you for the last hour,” she gushed.

I smiled, sure she’d confused me for someone else. She picked up on my hesitation.

“You were the first to take off her shoes!” she exclaimed. “I just can’t be the first to do that, and no one else was doing that. Then I saw that you weren’t wearing shoes and could finally take mine off.”

“You’re welcome,” I said, and looked down at the topic of our discussion. The square-toed pumps may have been a little out of date, but remained a classy choice – and I complimented her on them.

“Oh, those are the problem,” she said. “They were my husband’s grandmother’s.”

“I’m so sorry,” I said.

“She’s fine!” my new friend replied. “She gave them to me last time we visited, and while they’re a nice option, they pinch my toes. And the insides are shredding.”

“In that case,” I informed her, “next time, tell me you’re waiting and I’ll take off my shoes before the first dance.”

Shoe Repair: Stop-Gap Shop

Shoe Repair: Stop-Gap Shop

I have not given up on my people. But meanwhile, I need a place that can fix what’s broke, be it shoes or watches or the ability to arrange for a friend to be in the right place at the right time. A place that will live up to my exacting, if unrelated to workmanship, standards. I may have found it. Esther’s, despite it’s clean windows and lack of burnt-out bulbs, looks like it was last refurbished during the first Bush administration. Even better, they advertise enough services to make you wonder if they’re also offering haircuts in the back. Best of all, they have the requisite shady character lurking in their doorway, the kind of person who is either taking a smoke break from the flower shop next door, or arranging to corner black market – it’s hard to tell. Whatever it is they do there, it appears to ensure some fancy footwork.

Shoe Repair Shop: MIA

Shoe Repair Shop: MIA

Everyone survived, but I didn’t know that when I saw that my shoe repair shop was closed on a frigid Tuesday afternoon. Thankfully, the shock of the closed gate kept me standing stock still, disbelieving both the locked gate and taped-up “CLOSED STORE” sign. It was a passerby who informed me that everyone was alive and well. Until then, it hadn’t occurred to me that anyone’s life was in danger – even though I once suggested the place looked like a human smuggling front.

There had been a fire in the back, the well-heeled woman informed me, and all the shops on the block were irreparably damaged. I pressed her for details about my Russian pals, the not-so-friendly faces behind thousands of shoe repairs. She told me their business was over, and they weren’t coming back. I nodded as she gave me unsolicited directions to a nearby shoe repair, as though all shoe repairs were interchangeable. When she started eyeing me with concern, I thanked her and walked back the way I’d come.

For the remainder of the week, I spent my lunch breaks looking for a new show repair. My only requirement: the shop must be willing and able to repair anything I could carry – shoes, watches, leather goods, etc. Instead, I found shoe repairs that didn’t fix watches and watch repairs that didn’t fix shoes. Finally, I just walked into a barber shop and asked if they could fix my stopped watch. The young barber told me he’d be happy to, but it would have to wait till after 3pm. I didn’t want to wait, so he sent me to his buddy who runs the jewelry store down the block. A personal recommendation? I couldn’t turn it down.

The jewelry shop, a store smaller than my apartment’s living room, had three staff and no customers. The greeter and floor manager spent the 10-minutes it took the owner to take apart my watch beaming at me; the greeter from his station at the door and the floor manager within a foot of my face. The shop keeper, uninterested in eye contact, told me that my watch was broken and cheap. He asked me a few times if I’d put the watch in water; I assured him that I hadn’t, since it would have broken the watch. He nodded, and told me that in the future I shouldn’t put my watch in water. I liked the place, but they do not repair shoes. Possibly, they don’t repair watches either.

My time in the jewelry shop was heartening. Just as no barber can be sure that my watch is fixable, a woman in the street can’t judge what my shoe repairmen will do. Those guys are an unpredictable lot; hardy and fearless. Since never answered direct questions about anything, from the weekend weather forecast to their country of origin, it’s impossible to know exactly what they’ve been through. But the tidbits I managed to extract from them made it clear that they never thought they’d make it to America nor work in shoe repair. So, no matter what’s happened to them, I wouldn’t count them out. I’ll keep an eye out for them, and hope that when I find them, they’ll do the same for me.

They Live to Serve

They Live to Serve

I am American by birth. You wouldn’t know that from an American shoe store. The only shoe stores that carry my size put me in a European size 33 – the equivalent of a 2 on this side of the pond. So, to save myself from American salesmen and European prices, I order all my shoes online.

Even then, it’s hard to find a shoes that fits. So, I order a half dozen pairs at a time and return them all. And if you’re in the business of returning shoes, the best place to shop is Zappos. I would explain, but they do it so much better – like they do everything.

I bought shoes. They broke. I respect the fact that I wear my shoes hard, and didn’t think the company should cover because of it. So, I offered them a deal:

Hi –

I’ve had great experience with the quality of Zappos products but my most recent sandal purchase started coming apart – sole separating from the shoe – after two weeks. Could I return them or at least be refunded the amount I’ll have to pay the shoe repair?

The response came back like a slingshot – fast and reliable:

Hi there! My name is Kaden, Zappos’ known crazy dog lover! When I’m not at home taking care of my Golden Retriever Max, I’m at work helping amazing customers like yourself! I’d be happy to help you with your defective shoe question! I am sorry to hear that the Sandal you purchased from us is defective. That’s definitely not something that we like to hear about our merchandise, and is not indicative of the high quality of service and products we strive to provide our customers. I am glad that you wrote us right away so we can immediately address this situation. Before I assist you, I just want to make sure we are talking about the same order. Your message made it seem like it was a shoe YOU wear, and the most recent order you have is for a pair of kids sandals. So, if you can please contact us by chat or by phone to confirm, we can get this all taken care of for you! If it is the kids pair of sandals, we still have the same item available in Tan, 1 little kid, and we would be more than happy to send a replacement out right away as an exchange. If you would prefer to order something else, please provide us with the SKU number, size, and color for the new item. When we process an exchange, the funds are transferred from your original order to the new order; this is so that we do not need to charge your credit card a second time. We only ask that your return order is received within two weeks of the exchange being shipped. For your convenience, I have emailed you a prepaid UPS return label. You will receive two emails regarding your return; one will be the return confirmation and the other will have the label as a link. Please keep in mind that the exchange request must be made prior to your return reaching our warehouse. Lastly, if you choose to return this item for a refund only, and do not want to process an exchange, our return time frames are super fast! Once you drop the package off at UPS, it will take about one week, for the entire return process to be completed and your refund to be issued. We will send you an email confirming that your return is complete. Please keep in mind, you’ll be refunded within 2-10 business days once the item makes it back to our warehouse. I hope I was able to cover everything for you today. I apologize again for the inconvenience. I do have everything on your order notated, that way the next Zapponian you speak with will be fully educated on everything we discussed!

You have an amazing rest of your day, and thank you so much for emailing in here at Zappos! Again, my name is Kaden, and if you need anything at all, we are here 24 hours 7 days a week!


Kaden Keys Zappos Customer Loyalty Team

I appreciated the email and made a mental note to deal with the exchange as soon as I had a chance. Three weeks later, I still had not made it to the post office. But Zappos didn’t let subpar customer response interfere with their superstar customer service. Instead, they took it one step further and sent me sandals before I’d sent in my return.*

Because they’re that good.


*I did return the shoes.

This is a Beautiful Friendship

This is a Beautiful Friendship

I don’t have casual relationships. At least, not with my shoe repair store. It took my a few years to find my current place, and our relationship has been slow and rocky. The first few months were a honeymoon period – I’d bring them shoes and they’d fix them on the spot. They changed my watch band and made me three extra holes in it so that it could fit me. At the high point, they would nod in recognition when I entered the store, and stop what they were doing to wait on me.

Then we went through a rough patch –  taps kept falling off my shoes, as they warned me might happen but which I still didn’t appreciate – and I considered giving up on the relationship and starting over someone else. But, after some time apart, and long consideration, I went back. The parts of the relationship I didn’t appreciate – that watches would continue to break and shoes need to be resoled – were not their fault. It wouldn’t be right to give up on something so promising when the failings were no one’s fault. So I went back. Their joy was palpable – smiling, they asked why it had been so long since they’d last seen me. That sealed it. While I’d always liked the gruff men who worked there, I didn’t know that they felt the same. Our feelings mutual, and my expectations managed, our relationship began to thrive.

I’ve been with them ever since. Now, past the highs and lows of our early time together, they continue to surprise me. Last week I brought them my watch to fix, not for the first time. They switched out some parts. They handed the watch to me, and I handed them the money. With a look and a head shake, they waved my money away. Because that’s the kind of relationship we’ve worked hard to establish.

Shoe Repair: Where Anything Can Be Fixed

Shoe Repair: Where Anything Can Be Fixed

I always find shoe repair shops calming, despite the inevitably nefarious looks – slicked hair, gold teeth – of their proprietors. Perhaps it’s because I feel that, for the right price, they could smuggle me out of the country. They seem to feel the same way about me. Most customers are met with the same scowling “Vhat?” from the store owners. When the store owners greet me, it’s with a scowling “Vhat?” and twinkling eyes. Recently though, that’s changed. Now that I’ve been going to the same place for nearly two years, our relationship has progressed. When I walk into the shoe repair shop I’m greeted with a scowling “We haven’t seen you in a while.” After many years, and even more shops, I’ve found my shoe repairman.

As I’ve moved between neighborhoods, jobs, and offices, I’ve been to a lot of shoe repair shops. There was the one in midtown where they tried to sell me three tins of shoe polish. The east side one I wandered into one evening which charged me half as much as the normal rate for taps – and had a park bench inside the store. I’ve been to shoe repair shops where I had leather goods repaired, as well as watch shops where I had new taps nailed in.

From this, I’ve learned that there are three keys to picking a good store: old men, Russians, and price. Your repairman should be an old man or front for an old man. The age means that they’ve seen it all, know how to fix it, and don’t care to discuss it. Russian means that they will – as my Belorussian coworker once told me – do it best. Or, as I’ve learned, that they won’t turn down a job unless it’s a job that’s not worth your money. Which is why price-point must be part of your focus. Glitzy high-priced shoe repair shops are willing to do anything for money. Shoe repair shops which don’t appear to have been dusted for a minimum of two decades are not. They are willing to do any job that takes minimal effort in minimal time. And if that’s not why you went to the shoe repair shop then you are in the wrong place.

If you’re looking for the right place, this is it:

George’s Shoe Repair

109 Church Street

New York, NY 10007


Tell them you’re my friend. They’ll nod in approval and fix everything on the spot – even if there is someone else there first. They’ll do this all while scowling, and occasionally without acknowledging your presence. My shoe repairmen know how to multitask.