Repairing your favorite shoes a better deal than buying new

Posted March 15, 2009, at 9:34 p.m.

With the sales of luxury goods way down and unemployment rates going up, it’s a great time for anyone in the repair business. From keeping our cars longer to repairing our home appliances and clothes, there’s new interest in all areas of our lives to learn how to mend and make do.

According to Randy Lipson, a third-generation cobbler and owner of Cobblestone Shoe Repair in St. Louis, shoe repair shops nationwide (of which there are only about 7,500 remaining, down by half from a decade ago) are reporting a 20 percent to 45 percent surge in business. Things are beginning to shift as consumers are learning to live on less. For many, that means getting shoes that fit fixed.

Here’s the rule of thumb: No matter how much you paid for a pair of shoes that fit and are comfortable, financially it’s better for you to get them repaired than to replace them. That may go against the old notion that unless those shoes were very expensive, it’s cheaper to replace than to repair.

Materials used to repair shoes are three to four times better quality than the materials used to manufacture them, even those used in expensive shoes. And shoe repair professionals use the same materials on low-cost shoes as they do on those that might have cost $500 new. That means your favorite $25 pair from Payless will come back from the shoe repair shop with better heels, soles and stitching. They will be truly better than new.

A reputable shoe repair shop repairs all kinds of shoes and boots, even Birkenstocks. If you are not familiar with a shop’s work, ask to see examples. A good cobbler is proud of the work he or she does. There should be lots of shoes waiting to be picked up that you can inspect.

New heels and soles are what shoe repair shops do most, both for men’s and women’s shoes. They also perform complete reconditioning, which includes repairing torn or weakened areas and replacing components that are worn out. They also can restore the color and finish. Reconditioning is similar to stripping the paint from a fine piece of furniture and completely refinishing it. A good cobbler removes the top layers, reconditions the leather, restrains and returns it to new condition. Provided the shoes are made of leather, they can do wonders.

A simple repair, such as new heels, typically is about $20, depending on where the shop is located. A complete recondition can run as high as $100, but if we’re talking about a $300 pair of shoes, that’s a great value. It means you’ll get a second lifetime for those shoes for a fraction of the cost. When you think of “cost per wear,” repairing shoes rather than replacing them becomes a great value.

Other than shoes, shoe repair shops offer repairs on handbags, luggage, dog collars, belts (they shorten belts in a way that cannot be detected), saddles and bridles. If you have anything made of leather that needs some TLC, don’t throw it out; take it to a shoe repair shop.

To find a reputable shoe repair shop in your area, the Shoe Service Institute of America offers a shop locator at its Web site, www.SSIA.info.

Mary Hunt is the founder of DebtProofLiving.com and author of 17 books, including “Debt-Proof Living.” You may e-mail her at mary@everydaycheapskate.com, or write to Everyday Cheapskate, P.O. Box 2135, Paramount, Calif. 90723. To find out more about Mary Hunt and read her past columns, visit www.creators.com.

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