Monday, April 12, 2010

story: Les the Cobbler

Lisa Walker talks with Les Both – owner of Both Feet on Main Street.

Les was born on Vancouver Island in a town called Duncan. His parents are originally from Hungary. He moved to Vancouver when he was 2 years old. He apprenticed to become a cobbler after he graduated high school. Les found a post on a job board in the Manpower office, and worked at a shoe repair shop in Oakridge Mall for three years. He has worked in many different shoe repair stores over the years. Les sums up his past cobbler jobs, saying: “I worked in every store, so I had to buy my own!"

Him and his son were driving down Main Street one day and saw a shoe repair store at Main and 29th. Les poked his head in and said, “Hey, wanna sell your store?”

The man who owned it said, “Yes!”

Les bought the place in 2002. Les’ wife Carol came up with the name, as Les didn’t want to have a generic shoe store name.

“This is the best place I’ve ever worked.” Les comments. He is happy to work for himself and do things exactly as he wants. “Nothing flashy or fancy, just putting in the hours.” Les says. He recalls that during the busiest times he has had to work 70 days straight, sometimes staying until 3am!

Les was happy to take on new cobbler apprentices and employees in 2008. He says he even gets a few people asking if they can volunteer their time to learn the trade. He recalls that when he first started hiring people he had to tell them “No boppin’ the customers!”

I asked “What’s bopping?”

Les rephrased, “No dating the customers!”

I was looking at the lovely artwork Les has on the store walls, and he pointed out a drawing, which was given to him by a customer as a gift. It is a line drawing of a young woman’s face. He said a few years after it was given to him a woman came in who looked just like the woman in the drawing, but older.

She stared at the drawing and said, “That’s me!”

Les was amazed, what a small world!

“Women want nice shoes, and want to come to a clean, tidy store.” Les said, after pointing out to me that 90% of his clients are female. His shop really is clean and tidy, but also very genuine and warm. The sign on the storefront window was painstakingly hand-painted; the furniture in the front room rich in brown tones and bought from the antique shop next door. Local art pieces are hung on the walls between sparse carefully chosen shoe products. Grinding noises flow in between classical music as the men in the back work away.

“I like to take things slow, do everything right the first time. I take pride in what I do.” He says.

Although I can see the McDonald’s right across the street, being in this shop feels like a different time; a time when people didn’t expect things in ten minutes. A time when people worked hard at their jobs, and instead of doing everything quick and easy, did things slow, by hand and with pride while the rest of the world rushes on by.


Daniel said...

Nice story Lisa!

4kidsonMain said...

love this shop and Les, love seeing him every morning at Re Entry -it was a great day for the hood when he and Carol started the shop!