Shoe Repair Made Easy – Cobblers in Michigan, 1828-1923
When was the last time you referred to a shoe repair person as a “cobbler”? This word may sound strange for anyone under forty, as they might instantly think of a certain delicious fruity dessert that has a tasty, crispy crust.
According to the Morris Dictionary, to ‘cobble’ means to “mend roughly or clumsily; patch (up). Put together roughly or clumsily”…..and a ‘cobbler’ is “a repairer or maker of shoes and often of other leather goods. One that does clumsy or coarse work: a botcher.” I’m sure anyone who still calls themselves a ‘cobbler’ would take offense to that definition. A cobbler normally does not know how to make shoes – only repair them.
Footwear has been around longer than anyone can accurately determine, and modern shoemaking hit its stride in the 1800s and 1900s. Movies that depicted a cobbler usually showed him as an older, Geppetto-type character who is short, mustachioed, and wears glasses and an apron. These movie cobblers had their little shops down side streets, away from the main drag and always seemed to be dimly lit.
Michigan had its fair share of cobblers…if you wanted your shoes repaired quickly and cheaply, you took ‘em to a cobbler. If you didn’t mind spending more money, you took ‘em to a reputable, name-brand repair service. But you wouldn’t get that old-world charm that you get at a cobbler's.
I guess I’m old-fashioned. I dig the name ‘cobbler’ and would rather take my old ratty shoes to one of them instead of a normal shoe repair service. The trouble is trying to find one, down some dimly-lit side street with a gas lantern hanging over the door and Geppetto inside, cobbling by candlelight. I’ll just continue to dream.
Meantime, check out the gallery below of some cobblers from over 100 years ago, including a good handful from Michigan!
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