Standing inside Vance Shoe Repair off Route 40 in Ellicott City, it's easy to see it is not your ordinary small business. While the overflowing shop space — evidence of the business' success — is what you notice first, it's the friendly environment, cultivated by owner Paul McMickings, that stays with you.
McMickings died of cancer June 30 at age 63.
"Paul was here to help," said regular customer Maggie Surette.
"Paul didn't charge what other shoe shops charge. He would take in anything and would help anybody," Surette said. "He went above and beyond. That's what the community is going to miss."
A funeral service for McMickings, who served in the Vietnam War, was held on Monday, July 8, at Crownsville Veterans Cemetery.
Since taking over for original owner Clarence Vance in 1984, McMickings had been the heart and soul of the shop, which opened in 1973 and is located in Normandy Shopping Center. The antiquated business thrived off of old-fashioned business principles McMickings embodied.
McMickings sister-in-law Gerry Thierer, who happens to be Vance's daughter, said the store's policy — if you can get it through the door, they'll try to fix it — has worked for them.
Some may call it bad business, but whether it was shoes, handbags, belts, luggage, tents, McMickings and the staff at Vance were up to the challenge.
"He wouldn't tell someone, 'Sorry, I can't do that for you,'" Thierer said.
"Some people turn away stuff because its not profitable," Thierer said. "Paul and I never believed in that. ... Just because somebody has a short leg or bad foot doesn't meant they shouldn't be allowed to wear shoes. Those are going to be the people that really miss him."
Thierer recalled one particular instance where McMickings worked repeatedly to fix a leg brace for a young girl.
"I've seen Paul take a girl who had to wear a brace above her knee," Thierer said. "The straps would break, and he would come up with a way to fix them. Paul would always come up with a way to fix that brace. Whatever he could do to make it work."
While it may have cost Vance a few dollars across the years, the shop more than made up for it in good will and word-of-mouth advertising, which is the business' sole form of marketing.
"Paul was a straightforward guy. Very genuine, just had a really good soul," said customer Tina Lears, who began frequenting the shop after moving to Ellicott City in 1989.
Lears, who said she lives close to the shop, said she found it through the shop's signature word-of-mouth advertising campaign.
"I came in one day and we've been friends ever since," Lears said. "That happens a lot with Paul and Gerry."
Lears, who works as a shoe saleswoman, said McMickings loved his work and had a strong mind for business and people.
Thierer attributed McMicklings' success to that mix of likability and business sense.
"Shoe repair is a dying art, but somehow we've managed to survive," said Thierer, who plans to continue running the business. "If the industry is dying around you and you survive, then you've done well. That says something about you; that says a lot about Paul."