The proliferation of single-use products throughout the consumer world makes being a shoe repairman challenging. Throw a pandemic into the mix, and the shoe repairman might just need to rely on his own work boots rather than fixing others, said Joel Fischer, the Glenwood Shoe Service co-owner.
“COVID-19 was the last nail in the coffin,” Fischer told a customer Wednesday as she stopped by to pick up a repaired belt. “For a year, everyone was dressing from the waist up.”
Prior to the pandemic, Fischer and his wife, Cindy, kept the shop open Tuesdays through Fridays. But business waned throughout the pandemic, and it has yet to pick back up, Fischer said.
Nowadays, Fischer mans the shop alone, which is currently open Tuesdays and Wednesdays, as his wife works another job.
“Since the pandemic began — so for more than a year now — the business has just made enough money to pay its own bills,” he said. “So we essentially work for free. It makes it hard to keep your enthusiasm up.”
If something doesn’t change soon, Fischer said he might have to close the Glenwood location and run the business from the couple’s home in Rifle.
“I’d like to be working here 40-plus hours a week, but right now, I can only afford about 20 to 30 hours, so I have time for my other job,” Fischer said, explaining he also works on ranches and farms in the valley.
For many, shoes are worn until they are replaced with little thought of repairing the often cheap materials. The bulk of Fischer’s customers are people who purchase high-end footwear and develop an attachment, making the cost of repairs worth the investment, he said. Often, those customers are second-home owners or well-to-do visitors, Fischer explained.
As municipalities throughout the valley adopted policies in 2020 discouraging visits from people without full-time residency, Fischer said his business experienced a significant decline in customers. While many local tourism-based businesses experienced a robust return to something resembling normal in the first half of 2021, Fischer said he and his wife are still waiting for a resurgence of customers.
“Our busy season ranges from September to March, so we’re hoping business bounces back soon,” he said.
While picking up a recently repaired pair of high heels, another customer mentioned a recent post on the Facebook Group “Roaring Fork Swap” calling on locals to help save the store.
“You’d think with all these customers coming in, I’d be able to stay open,” Fischer said with a tired smile as he ripped the heel cap off a cowboy boot. “But this is just a trickle. Before everything, we had customers lined up out the door.”
Shoddy repair materials from previously well-regarded companies, such as Vibram, also dig into the Fischer’s bottom line.
“It doesn’t matter how good I am if the materials I have to work with are garbage,” Fischer said.
More and more, companies seek to increase profits by outsourcing their products to countries with lower labor standards, and quality control goes by the wayside.
With the increasing number of hurdles to remaining in business, Fischer said his future may lead him down another path.
“I have no idea what I’ll do next,” Fischer said.
But he’s not ready to give up the work yet. If the business is forced to close, Fischer said his services will still be available via online ordering and shipping at GlenwoodShoeService.com.
Glenwood Shoe Service, 3001 S. Grand Ave., is currently open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays; however, those hours could change in the coming months. To stay up to date with the latest hours and shoe repair news, Fischer said people could follow the business’ Facebook page.
Reporter Ike Fredregill can be reached at 970-384-9154 or by email at [email protected]