Shoe repair is booming in this sluggish economyby Tim Post, Minnesota Public Radio
A lot of business owners say the sluggish economy is hurting their bottom line. But tough economic times can mean something different for those in the shoe repair business. It actually brings customers into their shops.
St. Cloud, Minn. — Business is booming these days at Denny's Shoe Repair in downtown St. Cloud. Shop owner Denny Carveau works on a customer's high heeled white shoe on a hulk of a sewing machine, the old fashioned kind operated by foot pedal.
"Treadle base machine," Carveau describes. "We do this by hand - by foot, I should say."
This is one of the first repair jobs of the day, and there are many more waiting in the wings. Shoes are overflowing the small store's benches and shelves.
"We've got four buckets and shoes in bags laying on the floor all over," said Carveau. "Keeps us busy."
Denny's son is standing nearby, scraping the sole off of an old work boot. Todd Carveau said the family owned business has seen a boost since the economy went sour, and gas and food prices skyrocketed.
"This type of business, when the economy is in a tough time, more and more people look for ways to save money," Todd Carveau said. "This is one of the best ways you can do it."
The only other shoe repair business in the St. Cloud area is experiencing a similar jump. Ron Krick runs Krick's Shoe and Leather repair in a residential neighborhood in Waite Park just west of St. Cloud.
"From 2007 to 2008, we had approximately a 200 percent increase," said Krick. "And by the first quarter of this year, I had another major jump."
Krick said much of that increase can be blamed, or rather credited, to the poor economy. Krick said his customers say they'd rather repair the old than buy new, especially now. He points to a pair of scruffy work boots as a perfect example.
"This is a pair of $150 pair of boots, and for $20 to $30, I can get them up and running," said Krick. "It's like putting good tires on a used vehicle. You don't want to give it up, but it needs tires. So you get new tires and keep running."
Increased use of repair services, whether for shoes or cars, is something that's historically gone hand in hand with rough economic times.
Fifty years of U.S. Department of Commerce figures prove that, according to Louis Johnston, an economist at the College of St. Benedict and St. John's University.
"We tend to see some spikes in use around the recessions or times when the economy seems to be slowing down," Johnston said. "There's a really big spike between 1980 and 1983 when we had the worst recession since the Great Depression in the United States. And you see smaller spikes around 1990, 1991 and around 2000, 2001 when we had our last two recessions."
Johnston said there may be a similar spike happening now. But it's an increase that comes as the use of repair services overall is going down.
"It's a spike upwards in the short term, but in the long term it's a downward trend," said Johnston.
Johnston thinks that's because we've become a throw away society. He said these days people are more likely to spend a little more to buy a new toaster or coffee machine rather than fix a broken one.
The same argument could be made for worn out shoes. But repairman Ron Krick is a bit more optimistic.
"The repair industry is going to explode and I think I'm going to get even busier," Krick said.
Krick said there's another factor that will keep him busy. Twenty years ago when he took over his father's shoe repair business, there were seven shops in the St. Cloud area. Now there are only two. Krick said that guarantees plenty of business for him and his only competitor when the economy improves.
- All Things Considered, 06/02/2008, 5:20 p.m.