Work by Hand: Healing Worn Soles

Long-time customer Clark Walker brought a well-worn pair of loafers to the counter, where Barbara Woods closely eyed the soles.  "I'd put a solid rubber heel on that.  It'll wear a lot better," she advised.

"I've been coming here a long time," shared Walker. Before leaving his shoes, he'd caught up with Barbara and her husband, Marcus, on the latest news about mutual friends.  Mrs. Woods said, "We have the nicest customers." 

For nearly 38 years, the Woods family has been healing the soles of residents in Oak Ridge, Tennessee and beyond.  Their grown son and other extended family help on occasion.  But mostly the couple works side by side in their shop.  Much of their equipment is original, and the newer machines haven't changed much over the decades.  Shoes and their parts still get sanded, glued, nailed and stitched by hand.

Marcus Woods learned the trade from his father during his childhood in Oneida, Tennessee where their shop served residents of a mining camp.  As one of ten children, he always had a chore to share, even if it was shining shoes or sweeping floors.  In Oneida, the customers couldn't drop off their shoes.  "Back then, they only had one pair of shoes and they had to wait on them while we fixed them," explained Woods.  The couple purchased their Oak Ridge shop from a brother, one of multiple siblings who've been involved in the shoe repair business over the years.  Once one of five shops in the same small town, the repair shop is now one of few remaining in the country.

Woods Shoe Repair offers shelf after shelf of new, sturdy leather boots and handsome men's dress shoes.  They repair everything from rough brown work boots to women's heels.  While many customers are trying to stretch a dollar by repairing an average-priced pair of shoes, a few bring in $500-a-pair designer loafers or Jimmy Choo sandals.  Most customers are local, while some ship their worn-out shoes from far away.  No matter where you live or how important you think your shoes are, the Woods still won't accept credit cards or bother with a website.  They've never had to advertise.  "I have a tremendous amount of work," shared Woods.

Tomorrow:  peek into the shoe repair shop and hear how a soldier's work ethic keeps this shop marching along...

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