A man pops his head in the door and looks pleased to see shoemaker Leonard Legare. After some friendly words, he promises to come back with shoes in need of repair now that he’s found his trusted cobbler.
Legare, who has been repairing shoes out of Discovery Shoes since 2000, knows his customers and he’s excited to serve them in his new larger space.
He opened The Cobbler’s Rack Shoes and Repairs with his business partner Maggie Niewinski Aug. 1 and business has been streaming in ever since.
Legare got into the business when an injury caused him to give up his first career as a drywaller in 1998. WCB had a re-training program, and because he always enjoyed working with his hands, he was able to train as a shoemaker and discovered he had a knack for it.
He apprenticed for two years under Gabe Cappavilla, an Italian-trained master shoemaker, in Penticton.
“He was a master orthopedic shoe technician. He taught me how to make shoes, orthopedic shoes, orthotics and we did a lot of repairs,” said Legare.
The fact that being a cobbler has become a dying art in recent years has benefited Legare. He has customers who come from all over the Okanagan and Kamloops for his services.
Legare calls Niewinski the brains behind the retail space — she brings 30 years of retail experience to the partnership.
“Without her, I wouldn’t have done it,” said Legare, who was inspired by Niewinski’s business knowledge.
With a huge grin spreading across his face, Legare explains how much it means to him to open his own shop.
“It was my dream a long time ago to have my own store and now I’m 59, but at least I’ve done it before I’m 60,” he says with a chuckle.
Legare feels like he can breathe in his new space. A cobbler doesn’t just have a few sewing machines and a needle and thread. The back wall of his shop is lined with industrial equipment such as grinders, stretchers and heavy duty sewing machines, all made in Holland.
As far as the retail part of the business goes, the pair are excited they’ve been able to secure Fluevog, shoes designed in Vancouver, for their spring line.
Some of the notable brand they are carrying are Hush Puppies, Stacy Adams, Art, Dkode and Aetrex. They also carry many leather products as well as backpacks, man bags and briefcases.
“Because I’m a shoemaker I’m very particular, I like to buy shoes that are repairable,” said Legare.
They love the location of their store, in the heart of downtown, next to JC Bradley Jewellers, in the old Interior Gift Gallery.
“Everyone is so nice,” said Niewinski. “We have owners from other businesses coming in with their customers and showing them our store. We have such amazing support.”
Legare prides himself on his creativity when facing a repair and is able to repair things that many people would think was broken beyond saving.
“This is not just a shoe repair shop,” said Niewinski. “He fixes purses, belts, luggage, even hockey equipment.”
The Vernon Vipers come to Legare when they have equipment that can’t be fixed by their trainer. He can re-palm hockey gloves, stitch shoulder pads back together and repair skates.
In today’s throw-away society, Legare says his ability to fix things, and give them a new lease on life, can save his customers money and allow them to keep wearing their favourite pair of shoes.
The Cobbler’s Rack is celebrating by throwing a grand-opening sale starting Monday.