Posted by: poet kate hutchinson | August 9, 2013

The Shoe Repair Shop


I’d passed it a hundred times but never seen it, not having needed it – the tiny shop at the corner of an old, blonde-brick building along the tracks.  Entering with a bell’s tinkle, I am transported to the 1950s – shoe polish cans displayed along the wall in black, brown and gray, and a yellowed hand-written sign taped to the counter: No credit card sales under $25.

The air is dark and gray in the closet-sized space, barely large enough for two customers.  Behind the formica counter hangs a navy blue curtain, hiding the elves who surely come to stitch and glue each night.  Next to the curtain stands a roughly-made beige bookshelf with a shoe or two dotting each shelf, pairs bagged in plastic, each pinned with a pink tag.  Perhaps they’ve been sitting there for years.


Footsteps plod down a wooden staircase in the back room.  A hand opens the curtain and she appears – the ageless woman, gypsy-like, scarved, droopy-eyed, expressionless – a phantom from the past.  She looks at me blankly is she sleepy? drugged? disabled? sick? – and says nothing.

“Hello,” I say, offering a slight smile as a question.  I hold up my sandal, its strap flapping.  “It just needs to be sewn back in, here. . .”

She takes it from me, sets it on the counter, finds the pad of pink cardstock receipts, pushes it to me across the countertop.  “Fill in name, number,” she mumbles, accented.  Greek?  Bulgarian?  Serbian?

I find a capless pen on the counter, fill in the spaces.

“You pay now or later?” she asks, fingering the pad, scrawling “1000” across the top, which I take to mean ten dollars.

“Oh, I’d rather pay when I pick up.  When will it be ready?”

“Tomorrow by two,” she tells me, her blank eyes looking through me.  A strand of gray-streaked black hair swoops across her forehead from under the brown scarf.

“Ten dollar.  You pay now,” she says, suddenly a bit assertive, though her eyes remain void.

“Oh. . .alright,” I stutter.  I find my wallet, pull out a twenty.

She pushes down a round key on the old-fashioned cash register, the kind I used at my first job at a hardware store in the 1970s.  The drawer opens.  She stares at the trays, then closes the drawer and steps behind the curtain.  Is she absconding?  Has she dissolved into thin air?


No – in a moment she returns, handing me a worn ten-dollar bill.  “Before two,” she says, pointing at the door where the shop’s hours are printed in white.


The next afternoon at 1:45 I return, ringing the bell as the door sweeps inward.  I’m back in 1950 again where nothing has changed in the musty, dark room.  I wait once again.  Minutes tick by.

“Hello!” I call out.  I wait.  Before me on the top shelf of the bookcase, I spy my sandal, pink tag pinned to it.  I ding the little counter bell, then wait another full minute.  One more “Hello?” and another minute of silence.  Nothing.

For a moment I think of the possibilities:  She is asleep, or too ill to move, or too absorbed in a book or a TV show.  She is soaking in a warm tub.  She has stepped out for coffee or tea.  She is tending to a dying parent.  She never existed at all.

All at once, I am glad I had prepaid for this work.  I slip behind the counter and reach up for my shoe, my heart racing slightly.  I know I’m justified, but I still feel a pang of schoolgirl guilt, like I’m peeking at papers on the teacher’s desk, sure to be caught and punished.

Before leaving, I eye the sandal closely.  The strap has been expertly sewn into its pocket.

I push open the door, bell tinkling behind me, and step out into the glare of the sun.



  1. OK, you had me mesmerized by a visit to a shoe repair shop!

  2. It was one of those surreal moments, Paul — the kind where you realize as you are living it that it is stranger than fiction.

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