Shoe repair business tackles all problems big and small


John Heinold, who has been a cobbler for more than 30 years, hammers a newly glued sole onto a ridding boot at the Horse Country Shoe Repair on Wednesday in Ocala.

Doug Engle/Staff photographer
Published: Tuesday, January 19, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 18, 2010 at 10:42 p.m.

OCALA - It's a cold winter morning down at Horse Country Shoe Repair, and business is just as brisk.

Art Tate, a regular customer, enters the unassuming shop at 5920 S.W. First Lane in Ocala to pick up two pairs of dress shoes that needed to be stretched and re-heeled.

"He's one of our favorite stretching customers," said shop owner Bill Rodgers. "He buys shoes that are too small for him and I stretch them."

"We make a good team that way," said Tate, who is delighted to see the shop was also able to remove a stain from a fancy pair of ankle boots he had dropped off.

"They can fix anything leather that other people won't touch," he said.

In today's economy, repairing and refurbishing are sometimes a better choice than buying new.

Before Tate is out the door, a young gentleman arrives with a ripped pair of expensive polo player boots. At a cost of up to $1,000 or more for a new pair, it is well worth it to have the old ones repaired.

Next to arrive is a customer who first came to the shop a couple of weeks ago with a pair of walking shoes. They were comfortable and in good condition, but she wanted to wear them while line dancing.

Thanks to new suede leather soles, her shoes no longer stick. Now, she's returned to have the same thing done to another pair.

"We have about 20 people a day come in, and we repair about 60 to 75 pairs of shoes a week," said Rodgers.

The bulk of that business comes from the horse industry, according to Rodgers.

Having a shop behind the Ocala Airport Commerce Center, just a half-mile from Ocala Breeders' Sales Complex doesn't hurt.

"Horse people go by here all the time. It's not the best location, but it's close to the best location," Rodgers said.

Originally from North Reading, Mass., Rodgers moved to Chiefland in 1981. He has operated a dozen or more shoe repair shops in various locations in Ocala, Dunnellon, Chiefland and Crystal River.

Rodgers, who turned 80 in January, still lives in Chiefland despite relocating his business to Ocala four years ago.

He and his daughter share a five-acre farm there with 10 goats, 10 dogs, about 30 cats and one old donkey.

Sometimes Rodgers doesn't bother making the 65-mile commute home and just bunks at his shop for the night.

"It's like home to me, and we have fun here," he said.

Rodgers' work crew consists of Cecil Guynn, who is three years his senior, and middle-aged John Heinold.

Guynn is a native of Ocala who retired from the Pinellas County School System in 1980. He had never been in a shoe repair shop until he answered Rodgers' newspaper ad a few years ago.

"He caught on quick," Rodgers said.

Guynn worked at the shop full time until recently, when his wife suffered a stroke.

With Guynn taking more time off to care for his wife, Heinold stepped in to help with the workload. Heinold is an experienced shoe repairman.

"We were recycling before recycling was cool," Heinold said.

Indeed, recycling is what Horse Country Shoe Repair specializes in.

They can stretch tight-fitting footwear, add or replace a zipper on riding boots and even install a "bunion button."

Their expertise doesn't just stop at the feet though.

They can repair handles and tears on handbags and luggage, re-cover sofa seats and customize belts.

"We do a lot of hand-sewing that other shops won't," said Rodgers. "We probably turn down only about one job out of 100."

"We tackle it," added Guynn.

Despite their name, there is one thing they don't do.

"We don't do horseshoes," said Rodgers.

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