BY KATIE MATTESON
If you’re sad because your favorite shoes have worn out or the strap on your purse is broken or the zipper on your jacket is ripped, you may want to consider getting them repaired instead of throwing them out. West Racine Shoe Repair has been extending the life of these and other items since 1983.
And the building, located at 1138 Hayes Ave., has housed a shoe repair shop continuously for over 100 years.
The story of current owners Dave and Deb Franks starts on the Northside of Racine when Dave started working for his grandfather, Harry, at Expert Shoe Repair on Douglas Avenue at the age of 15. When Harry retired in 1983, Dave took over the business and Deb starting helping out after the couple were married and learned the trade from her husband.
In 1988, the couple bought the West Racine shop from Mel and Evie Zeman who had owned it for 35 years. They operated both businesses until 1990 when they consolidated into one location.
Deb. said that when Dave started in the business as a teenager there were 50,000 shoe repair shops in the United States. Currently there are only 3,000.
She attributes the decline to the increase in disposable products, however she has noticed an uptick in recent years in those who are discovering the virtues of repairing items to keep them out of landfills, as well as saving money.
“We’re very honest with people who bring their items to us, as to whether or not it’s cost effective to repair their items,” Deb said. “Sometimes the answer is no, but very often we really can save our customers money with the repairs.”
Dave also does a lot of work with orthopedics and fills doctor prescriptions for recovering orthotics and shoe modifications such as shoe lifts to compensate for leg length due to a traumatic injury or congenital defect.
In 1999 Dave became a pedorthist, training at Froedtert Hospital in Milwaukee and the Medical College of Wisconsin, to expand his abilities in the orthopedic field.
Other types of common projects include alterations, repairs and application of patches to leather jackets, restringing of baseball gloves, reconditioning of leather purses or briefcases, zipper work on coats and shoes, stretching and resoling shoes, including Christian Louboutin and Birkenstocks.
Deb said that she and her husband enjoy the challenge of figuring out how to restore each item as close to its original condition as possible.
“He loves working with his hands,” Deb said about her husband. “Someday, when he is 80 years old he would still like to be working at recrafting shoes”
After 30 years of vacationing in the Rhinelander area, the couple decided to expand their business to the Northwoods and opened Lakeland Shoe Repair about five years ago so that Dave could be closer to his favorite things.
The couple sold their vacation cottage and bought a new place that would serve as both a residence and a workspace.
Deb splits her time between the Rhinelander and West Racine locations, heading south at 3 a.m. on Fridays and arriving at the shop by 7:30 a.m. for a full day of work. She’s back in the shop by 7:30 a.m. on Saturday and works until 3 p.m. before hitting the road again to return north. She said she doesn’t mind the commute, as it gives her quiet time and a chance to listen to books on tape.
On the way, she often picks up or drops off jobs in places like Milwaukee and Waupaca.
The unique setup works thanks to Deb’s sister, Cathy Cheever, who has worked at the shop for 22 years.
“She’s the face of the business and takes care of our customers when they walk in the door” Deb said. “She knows the names of all our regulars and usually knows what they want.”
Deb stays with her sister when she’s in town.
“We really didn’t know how this would all work out when we added Lakeland Shoe Repair,” Deb said. “but with God’s help, it really does!”
She said she’s grateful for the shop’s loyal customer base. “They tell us all the time – don’t ever close.”
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