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  • Writer's pictureLeigh Gerstenberger

This Shoemaker Makes House Calls

Yesterday I stopped at my local shoe repair shop to have my favorite pair of loafers refurbished with new soles and heels only to find the loquacious proprietor, Gary (The Man) Burke sitting in the shop restringing an ancient baseball glove.

As is usually the case, you never simply drop off your shoes at Ingomar Shoe Repair. As I learned on my maiden visit to this iconic institution several years ago, one first must take an “audience” with Gary, which is like visiting with the Pope.

You see Gary doesn’t just repair shoes. He dispenses a considerable amount of information about his life, the state of our society and tidbits of wisdom and knowledge that you didn’t even know was missing from your life until the oracle of Ingomar enlightens you.

Yesterday for example during the preamble to the discussion about replacing my heels and soles, I learned that it’s not always the case that when you are the second car in a rear-end collision, i.e. the car that struck the car in front of you, that it’s not always your fault.

I learned this as Gary shared a recent experience in which the driver in front of him slammed on his brakes making it impossible for him to stop in time. Ordinarily (I thought incorrectly) the driver of the car that hit the car in front of it was automatically at fault. Thankfully that did not happen in the case Gary was involved with as the adjudicating authorities only assessed him with 30% of the responsibility for the accident with the other party responsible for the balance.

While I hope I never need to apply this information in my own life at any time in the future, it’s still good to know.

At this point, my “audience” with Gary had lasted 15 minutes. The restrung baseball glove was about to be finished, but not before Gary explained to me that he always strings the glove with the shiny side of the new laces facing outward before cutting the laces diagonally. I couldn’t help but be struck by his attention to detail which in my mind, elevated his work to a form of art.

By now I thought surely that I’d be able to give him my shoes (the reason I had stopped in his shop), but that still was not the case as Gary turned the tables on me by simply asking how my day was going.

He wanted to know if I still had my big car, the Lexus. Was I fully retired? And then finally, oh yeah, what do we want to do with your shoes?

After a brief conversation about soles and heels, he made the comment, that this will work better than the last time you were in.

I paused incredulously when he said this. The “last time” I was in was over a year ago. I had dropped off a pair of unique “driving shoes with a sole that wraps around the heel so the leather at the back of the shoe doesn’t get ruined by the constant rubbing on the floorboard of the car when your foot is on the accelerator.

After initially promising that the repair for these shoes would be ready in three days, I ended up stopping in multiple times over a several week period as Gary was having difficulty getting the materials he needed to do the job.

After my third visit to pick up my shoes and their not being ready, Gary promised that he’d have them by the end of the day and that he would drop them off at my home. Sure enough, when I got home later that evening my shoes were in a bag at my front door.

Amazed that Gary even remembered the shoes he worked on for me from my previous visit over a year ago, I reminded him that he actually dropped them off at my home (something I’ll never forget) at which point I was struck by the simple truth he shared as we said our goodbyes.

“You know in my business, I figure, if the repair takes too long to finish and I personally deliver the shoes to the customer, there’s a good chance that they’ll keep coming back.” Truer words were never spoken.

As anyone knows who’s looked for a shoe repairman, in our “use it up and throw it away economy” the shoe cobbler is a dying breed.

What’s even more rare in all types of service industries is exceptional, customer service. So rare in fact that when you experience exceptional customer service it’s hard not to take notice.

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