Craft Culture: Turning family tradition into modern day practice at George’s Shoe Repair

The impossible fix


Inside George’s Shoe Repair // Photo by Tj Turner

The pair of cowboy boots the women brought into the store no longer resembled the shape of a traditional western boot. Instead, they looked like something an elf might wear. After getting covered by standing water, the toes of the boots curled so far up the owner could no longer stick her foot in them. The white leather, once extravagant looking with an intricately stitched black lace pattern on the sides, now felt as hard as a rock. Ron thought he finally met his match.

“These boots looked like they belonged to the Wicked Witch of the East,” says Luke.

After soaking them for two days in a concoction of water and conditioner, though, the leather finally softened enough to stuff them and begin to stretch them back to the shape they once held. Other cobblers might have turned down the job, in fact Ron almost did, but for years the family has prided itself on doing work others can’t.

At any given time, there are many as 200 pairs of shoes and leather goods like purses, belts, gloves, and jackets stacked up on shelves or stored in bins awaiting repair. Customers can bring items directly into the Arden Hills store, mail them in from anywhere in the country, or leave them at a number of drop-off locations throughout the Twin Cities.


The shop inside George’s Shoe Repair // Photo by Tj Turner

Luke, Melissa, and Ron revel in the tough cases: complicated rebuilds, heels chewed by dogs, bad salt stains, resizing a boot to someone’s calf, and complete blowouts that require patching where the leather of the shoe has pulled away from the sole. The three co-owners specialize in putting things back together, even when hope is all but lost. It’s an attitude that earned them the title of the top repair shop in 2009 from Mpls.St.Paul Magazine, and keeps customers coming back to salvage their shoes or customize a pair to fit just right.

The store’s reputation even extends to wardrobe staff from local theaters or venues like the Target Center and the Xcel Energy Center. They come calling when touring performers have an emergency before a concert. The team recently re-attached a heel block for Carrie Underwood, and gave Beyoncé’s red patent leather knee-high boots a new zipper. The Georges even kept Madonna and her crew of backup dancers from slipping onstage when they added rubber soles to their black shoes.

These days, many shoes aren’t made the same way they were back when the family first got its start in 1905. Rather than being sewn together, many of the components of modern shoes are glued together. Despite this change in construction, Ron continues to adapt the family business to stay relevant and keep up with new demands.


Ron George // Photo by Tj Turner

“Ten years ago I would have turned down things I do every day now because I didn’t have the right adhesives,” says Ron, who took time to understand how a variety of cements and glues interact with different materials. “Some cobblers don’t learn how to fix [newer shoes], or won’t tackle them because they don’t understand it.”

Now, next to more traditional tools like his sewing awl and wall of waxed threads, Ron carries an assortment of brightly colored bottles and metal canisters filled with primers, hardeners and glues. He’ll mix these together—sometimes up to four in one batch—to create custom recipes to reconstruct modern builds.

After all, people will always wear shoes, and when they break there will always be cobblers like the George family waiting to restore them.

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