By Chuck Dodge and Jimmy Dugan
For the first time in more than a decade, there’s a place in Lexington to get your shoes repaired.
On Tuesday, Rockbridge County natives Greg and Sara Moore opened a new leather repair shop at 121 West Nelson St. The store, called Cobblestone, occupies the space that used to house Mia, a jewelry shop.
The Moores come with expertise, specialized equipment and a confidence that the store will mend soles for years to come.
“I had a good reputation at a good business once before,” said Greg Moore.
At one time, cobbling was a vital trade in the Rockbridge area. According to a 1989 article in The News-Gazette, Buena Vista alone had three shoe repair shops – and Moore ran one of them.
“If something went wrong with your shoes in the old days, you had to get them fixed,” Moore said in that article. “People didn’t have the money to buy new ones like they do now. Cobblers kept busy constantly.”
But shoe repair shops faded both locally and nationally in the last decades of the 20th century, casualties of changing footwear fashions and the global economy. According to the School of Style in Los Angeles, there were 100,000 shoe repair shops in the United States during the 1930’s. Today, there are only 4,300.
In recent years, though, the shoe repair industry has found a niche market as a result of pricier shoes.
Washington and Lee University’s conservative fashion tastes cater to the Moores’ business model as well. Countless students, male and female, wear leather shoes and accessories at W&L.
“Ladies wear tall boots and one little accident and there goes the heel,” said Sara Moore. This is where Cobblestone can step in — to save a sorority girl’s favorite pair of boots, just in time for the weekend formal.
Greg Moore, 60, has practiced the art of cobbling since his early 30s. In 1986, he purchased the cobbler shop on Buena Vista’s 14th Street, one block from the home where he grew up. Along with the purchase came the rare machines (the better of which now occupy the new shop) as well as a thorough cobbling apprenticeship under former owner Laban Gearhart. A worthy instructor, Gearhart and his family had practiced cobbling in Buena Vista for what Moore says was 110 years.
“I was his neighbor,” Moore said recently. “When I found out he was going to close, I went over and asked him, ‘How would you learn the trade if you didn’t know?’ He thought on it a minute and said, ‘If you want to buy the business, I’ll teach you.’”
In 2002, Moore shut down the shop to take a job that would offer him medical insurance, but he has been eager to pick up where he left off. He has a keen interest in the craft, and enjoys being self-employed.
“As I’ve gotten older I’ve realized that I don’t really care to work for someone through retirement age,” he said. “I don’t believe I could do it for someone else.” Moore says he intends to work through the age of 75.
The Moores have been discussing opening the store for three years. They believed their largest challenge would be to obtain the proper equipment, but they were able to identify exactly what they needed in Arlington, to add to their existing supplies.
“I’ve got the right equipment,” said Moore, “and plenty of it.” When Sara Moore stumbled upon the West Nelson Street storefront for rent, the couple knew they had what they needed.
In fact, the location was so nice — with windows spanning the entire front wall — that Moore was inspired to add a retail element.
New shoes will not be a part of the retail business, but instead Sara Moore says that they intend to offer leather handbags, possibly imported from Italy, along with leather belts and wallets.
“Some things that you don’t typically find in your common shop,” said Sara Moore. Repair will remain the heart of the business, though.
“Everybody has got something leather that they are fond of that needs to be fixed,” Greg Moore said. “The list goes on of the things that you can do in a repair shop.”
Moore says that former customers have pestered him for years to get back into the business.
“I think it’s a good time now,” said Moore. The Moores have already seen an outpouring of support and excitement that they are once again opening up shop to tend to any and all leather needs.
Sara Moore says that on her mother’s Facebook page a friend posted a picture of the Cobblestone sign accompanied by a caption expressing joy that they were back in business. “In no time it was 50 ‘likes’ and 25 comments,” she said.
The couple will not rely on Facebook to spread word of their opening, though.
“We are going to advertise everywhere we can,” said Greg Moore, and he is also counting on word-of-mouth.
“I know lots of people in businesses across the county, and we are going to go around, practically door to door, letting people know we are back in business,” said Moore.
The competitive advantage is certainly in the Moores’ favor; Cobblestone will be the only store of its kind in Rockbridge County.
“It’s not like another restaurant or gallery,” Moore said. “It’s a one-of-a-kind thing.”