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Down at the heel

The Baltimore Sun

Coleman Eldridge

Cobbler and owner

The Shoe Specialist, Severna Park

Salary --$50,000

Age --63

Years on the job --47

How he got started --Eldridge picked up the trade of repairing shoes by working part-time after high school at a shoe repair store at Fort Meade in the 1960s. In 1978 he opened his own store, the Shoe Specialist, in Benfield Village Shopping Center. "I liked it and I stayed in the business. I like taking an old pair of shoes and making it new again. I like to get up and go to work in the morning."

Typical day --As owner of the business, Eldridge is at the store Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. and on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. He works mainly on shoe repairs but will also repair luggage and other leather goods. He estimates that he sees about 25 or 30 customers a day, with fall and winter being the busiest time of the year. The store sells a variety of related products, such as insoles, arch supports and shoe polish. Most of his business comes from longtime customers. He also picks up shoes to be cleaned, repaired and polished from about 20 dry cleaners in the area.

Time --Eldridge will repair shoes while you wait or can have them ready in one or two days. Repairing soles and heels takes about 30 to 40 minutes. To repair a heel on a woman's shoe takes about five minutes.

Dying trade --"I've been in business for a long time and have seen it in decline. Shoes today are so cheap and we're getting to be a throw-away society. Repairing shoes sometimes is the same price of new shoes."

Cost --A customer pays about $45 for a half sole and heel repair.

It's all about comfort --"You buy a good pair of shoes, they are broken in and comfortable, then you don't mind investing money in it. Some of my customers who buy cheaper shoes that are comfortable, they'll pay more money to get them repaired than what they paid for the shoes themselves."

The good --Talking with the customers.

The bad --"I put in a lot of hours."

Philosophy on the job --"Treat my customers with respect. I like to do a good job and have the work done the day I say to come back for them. You get the work out, you'll always have satisfied customers."

Nancy Jones-Bonbrest Special to The Sun

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