‘Ever-changing’: Meet your cobblers in downtown Barrie (5 photos)
Merriam-Webster describes a cobbler as “a repairer or maker of shoes and often other leather goods” and also “a deep fruit dessert with a thick top crust”.
If you’re hungry for dessert, Golds Shoe Service might not be your go-to destination.
But if you need to extend the life of your favorite footwear, owner Paul Duncan will fit you in, as he’s done for Barrie residents for 39 years this week.
Exactly how long the shoes were repaired downtown isn’t entirely sure, Duncan says BarrieToday.
“To my knowledge, the (shoe repair) store has been around for about 85 years,” he says.
Prior to this, the building at 11 Clapperton St. — that Duncan shares with another store — was a tire repair business, with recesses in the old sidewalk down to street level for vehicular access still visible today.
By the 1940s, shoes and boots were more often repaired than replaced, and for many customers this trend continues.
“I don’t think it’s a disposable society (in terms of shoes). We are as busy as ever except for part of the lockdown,” says Duncan, adding that at one point it was closed for 25 weeks. “Every time we manage to reopen, it takes a little while to get people out again.
“But overall, we’re still busy. In fact, until COVID, in all my years here, I’ve never fully caught up. There was always work waiting.
All of this work comes in many shapes and sizes, he says. It would be shoes, boots, handbags, luggage, leather coats, hockey equipment, baseball gloves and even rackets. You name it.
Duncan says he and fellow cobbler Leanne Vanderboor “repair pretty much anything that’s a leather product. We’ve never really set out to do all of those things. People just show up and ask if we can fix it.
“We are quite creative, so we find ways. We both think it’s fun to have these kinds of challenges.
With new fashions come new materials to work with, Duncan adds.
“We are constantly changing the way we do things. A lot of people aren’t aware of the assortment of things we can fix,” he says. “Adhesives keep changing all the time. Increasingly due to environmental concerns, adhesives have become much safer for the environment and for us.
In nearly 40 years of being in the same spot near Five Points, Duncan has had the opportunity to observe the changes.
“I guess we’ve gone from a more family-friendly downtown to a bit more of a nightclub (and restaurant) scenario,” he says. “I’m not saying it’s a negative thing. I still think downtown is a good place to be.
“Yes, we have colorful people, but that’s part of what makes it interesting.”
As the couple ply their cobblestone trade, they’re grateful to be doing what they love.
“I like people,” says Duncan. “You meet so many and it’s great fun, but we also enjoy the work. I think you stick with something that you have fun with and enjoy.
“If you don’t like what you’re doing, you’ll probably look for another job.”