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Time: In Tough Times, Tailors and Cobblers Thrive


Distinguished Member
May 8, 2007
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As consumers cut back on big-ticket purchases this year, many fix-it folks are busier than ever. Why go out and spend money on new shoes, suits, or SUVs when it's so much cheaper to repair the ones you already have? Around the country cobblers, tailors, car mechanics and bike, vacuum, watch, and television repairmen are all reporting strong revenues during the recession. Jim McFarland, a third generation shoe repairman who owns McFarland's Shoe Repair in Lakeland, has fought many anxiety bouts his 23 years running the shop. "I've spent nights pacing my floor at two, three in the morning, wondering 'how am I going to get through this?'" says McFarland, who teethed on leather as a baby. "Now, I sleep the whole night through," he says. "I've never seen it like this — it's wonderful."

McFarland says his year-over-year revenues rose 28% in December, and 35% in January. "I'd love to see a 50% jump in February," he says. As the historian for the Shoe Service Institute of America, the cobbler trade group, McFarland also tracks local media stories on shoe repair performance, and talks to hundreds of shop owners throughout the country. He says that cobblers are reporting increases in the range of 25-40% during the fourth quarter of 2008 and the first few months of '09.

For tailors who also make custom clothing in their shops, the alteration game is a savior. Joyce Hittesdorf, the president of the Association of Sewing and Design Professionals who also runs her own small business in Carmel, Indiana, has picked up about eight new clients over the past month. "They were all looking to salvage what they had," she says. "Alterations were the secondary part of our business, now it's more primary." At Imparali Custom Tailors in New York City, new custom suit sales fell about 20% in 2008, while revenues from fix-up jobs jumped 30%. Matt Harpalani, the shop's manager, notes that many of his customers who have lost weight now opt for an alteration, rather than a new Armani. "The alteration business has paid our rent," Harpalani says.
Shoe repair is a dying industry. During the Great Depression, there were some 130,000 shops across the country. Now, there are only 7,000.
Just think how many more shoes we have, and yet how many fewer shoe repair shops

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