At 26 years old, Brian Park doesn’t quite fit the classic image of the kindly old shoemaker. But for six years now, Park’s been making a name for himself as the ultimate fix-it guy for everything from snapped heels to separated soles at the longtime Traverse City shop Gauthier’s Shoes & Repair. We caught up with Park to learn more about his craft:
First things first: Do people still use the term “cobbler”?
I don’t really get called a cobbler, per se. But every once in a while somebody will call me that.
So what do you call yourself, then?
Shoe technician and an orthopedic technician. Because I do a lot of orthopedic work, as well, which is, like, modifying shoes so people can walk again without having to wear a metal brace.
That’s gotta feel good, to do that kind of work.
Yeah, it does. And that’s part of the fun. You get to leave at the end of the day and actually feel like you did something with your day. I can say that I helped somebody.
How did you get into this trade?
I’ve known the owner, Tina Martin, since I was born; she was my mom’s best friend. I’d been having a hard time finding work that paid enough in Traverse City for the qualifications that I had, so she asked if I wanted a job and I said, ‘Yeah, I’ll give it a shot.’ She told me at any point in time I could leave if I didn’t like it, but I just kind of fell in love with it. It’s such a craft. You work with your hands and every single job is a little bit different.
What do you love about it so much?
I like the variety. You can do anything, from soles and heels to sewing patches on things. You kinda use your inner MacGyver and creativity on things you wouldn’t think are repairable. People will bring me their tents, their luggage. There was a guy who came in once, he got these old therapy chairs from the State Hospital, and they had these little leather coverings for the arm pieces. They were all super old. I completely redid the leather on all of them. There’s a lot of stuff I get that has history with it—anything from old World War II knife sheaths to World War I gun holsters, old German World War II boots. Really, once you get familiar with all the different tools and what you can actually do, anything is repairable, in a way.
What’s the most common shoe issue you see?
Probably on thong sandals when the toes rip out; I can actually fix those. Also the elastic on sandals and high heels; I do a lot of that. Probably 80 percent of the work I do is on shoes. And another 10 percent would be purses—I do a lot of purse repair. And the rest would be mostly luggage and backpacks. The occasional hockey equipment. Relacing baseball gloves—I never charge what that’s worth.
Do you feel like you’ve found your calling?
Yeah. I’m going to be doing this the rest of my life, for sure. They say it’s a lost art; as the actual cobblers get old, they can’t do it anymore, and they don’t have anybody to take over. It’s something you have to love to do or else you aren’t going to be happy, and then you’re going to be a grouchy shoe repair man.
See Brian in action at Gauthier’s with this MyNorth Media video!
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