If Santa's elves need to mend their shoes this week, they should fly over to Greenwich Shoe Repair. Hidden in an alley off East Elm Street, this ingenious little shop offers a sanctuary to anyone who wants to restore their favorite leather piece back to its original radiance. Only word-of-mouth would lead someone to this obscure Greenwich shop but, evidently, people are talking.
When customers at last discover the shoe repair's location, they return again and again. George Togridis, the shoe repair guru, is the second generation of leather devotees to run the Greenwich Shoe Repair.
His father started a shoe repair business in New Canaan in 1980 and opened up the Greenwich shop for George's brother. When George started working at the shop in 1990, he quickly realized that his father's calling was his calling.
His brother moved on, and George took over and uses the word "love" when he is talking about his job. "Ever since I was my own boss, I love this job. I like making people happy. They bring me sad-looking shoes and I turn them into happy shoes."
One can sense the pride George and his full-time assistant, John, have in their work from the minute the door is opened.
The machines are not behind walls, but encased in the one room that is the shop. A customer can watch shoes being stretched, stitched, dyed, or whatever is requested.
When I was interviewing George, a customer (one of many in the short time I was there) wanted an ink stain removed from a very elegant handbag. George tried something but then explained to the gentleman that ink stains cannot be removed from fine leather. Here's some good advice -- don't write notes leaning on your handbag.
Famous customers? George said that he enjoys looking up from a job and seeing a familiar face from television or film. However, he respects their privacy and keeps to business. The most expensive pair of shoes he has repaired were a pair of boots that a customer had bought at a charity auction for $20,000. They needed new heels, as they evidently had been worn down by a very famous person.
George knows most of his customers by their addresses. Because the shop is so tiny, he has little room for storage so he has a prepay-free delivery policy.
If a customer prepays, George will repair the item and deliver it without charge to the customer's door.
Because he emigrated from Greece with his parents when he was 10, I asked George if he knew my Greek neighbor. He did not recognize her name, but he asked where I live. When he heard my address, he immediately said my neighbor's address.
The machines in the shop are intriguing because they are so visible and, best of all, they are made in the United States.
They were purchased when the shop opened in 1990, have needed some repairs, new motors and belts, but they still do the job after 24 years. Shoes aren't the only repairs George does. About 20 percent of the jobs at the shop are handbags, and he and John also repair saddles, wallets, anything made of leather.
When I asked about flexibility in shoes, George said that good shoes have soft leather and Italian shoes are still the best. A pair could be around for thirty years and George is ready to repair them for next thirty.
Parking can be an issue for George's customers but he tells them to drive up to the front door in the alley and drop off the shoes. The customer is in and out quickly.
Pull into the alley next to Little Eric's Shoes on East Elm Street and perhaps you will meet the elves dropping off some shoes from Santa's sleigh.
Ann Caron is an author of books on adolescence and is a parent-educator.She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.