Alexey “Alex” Shkolnik, one of the city’s last downtown cobblers, who was named one of Baltimore’s Best for 2019 by The Baltimore Sun, died April 28 from a cardiac arrest at Sinai Hospital. The Owings Mills resident was 73.
“Alex was a cobbler’s cobbler, who did repairs others turned down, and had college degrees in the manufacture, engineering, and repair of footware and leather goods in his native Russia,” said Rob R. Hendrickson, a Baltimore lawyer who is a partner in the firm of Boyd, Benson and Hendrickson.
“Not only did he take care of my shoes, he also gave me haircuts,” said Mr. Hendrickson, who patronized Mr. Shkolnik’s West Saratoga Street shop for more than 20 years.
Alexey Shkolnik, the son of Shaya Shkolnik, a glazier, and his wife, Ida Shkolnik, a homemaker, was born and raised in Bogulsav, Ukraine.
When he was 13, he went to work to help support his family “and there was never a question about it; in Alex’s mind, duty to family came above everything else,” Beth El Congregation Cantor Thom King said in his eulogy.
He attended college in Kiev, earning an engineering degree, and went to work as a construction engineer overseeing the building of large buildings and farms.
In 1970, he married the former Galina Grach, whom he had met at a women’s volleyball match. To support his growing family, Mr. Shkolnik took on a second job as a glazier, a skill he had learned at his father’s side.
To escape the rising anti-Semitism in Russia, Mr. Shkolnik and his family emigrated to Baltimore in 1987.
“Wishing for a better life, he arrived in Baltimore with $100 in his pocket, and the next day he was working for a spice company and Century Shoe on Park Avenue,” Mr. Hendrickson said.
Two years later, Mr. Shkolnik took his hobby of shoe repairing and made it into a reality when he established The Cobbler’s Shop at 219 W. Saratoga St. in 1989.
“You bring me shoes, 99 percent of the time I fix them,” Mr. Shkolnik told The Sun when he was presented its one of Baltimore’s Best for 2019 awards.
“He was also an expert in prosthetic corrective shoes,” Mr. Hendrickson said, “and worked with medical providers to provide prescription shoe modifications.”
“His skill in the lost art of shoemaking and shoe repair brought him into contact with many different people. He was a specialist in creating custom orthopedic footwear for children with special needs,” Cantor King said in his eulogy.
“He also made special shoes for cast members of Broadway shows at the Hippodrome, for which he was always rewarded with tickets to performances,” he said.
For his work attending to their footwear, a grateful “Lion King” cast invited Mr. Shkolnik to the show and gave him a souvenir signed cast poster, which he proudly hung on a wall of his tiny shop.
“With a devoted clientele of all kinds, he succeeded in bringing destroyed shoes and leather garments back to life and thought nothing of ladies bringing in dozens of shoes at the change of the seasons that needed new heels, boot calf extensions or other repairs,” Mr. Hendrickson said.
In addition to handling repairs of shoes and other leather goods, Mr. Shkolnik’s shop functioned as a noontime luncheon destination, where the faithful brought in their lunches purchased at the nearby Lexington Market or Trinacria, while others just arrived content with a bag of Berger’s doughnuts, to discuss current events or air gripes.
“For over a decade he hosted a group of very diverse people — the United Nations has nothing on them,” Mr. Hendrickson said. “Regulars at these meetings welcomed newcomers to add to the mix, and the small shop sometimes became standing room only.”
Mr. Hendrickson said these meetings often became “animated” but at the same time “quite entertaining.”
“People always liked to hear Alex’s opinions on world and local events, and he was always more than willing to give his opinions,” Cantor King said.
Even though he suffered from the effects of a back injury several years ago, Mr. Shkolnik continued coming to work in spite of the pain.
“My wife said, ‘You’re stupid,’ but I love my work,” he told The Sun. “When I stay home, I die — so I no stay home.”
Mr. Shkolnik’s last day of work was April 26, and he died two days later.
“We say in our tradition, Y’hi zichro baruch — may the precious memory of Alex’s life bring blessings into the lives of all who knew and loved him; let us say Amen,” Cantor King said.
Funeral services were April 30 at Sol Levinson & Bros. in Pikesville.
In addition to his wife of 48 years, Mr. Shkolnik is survived by two sons, Dmitry Shkolnik and Igor Shkolnik, both of Owings Mills; a brother, Dimitri Lukach of Philadelphia; and three granddaughters.