There’s not much that’s changed at Larry’s Shoe Repair shop on West Jefferson Street in Brooksville since he started fixing soles more than 40 years ago.
Inside the small shop, the wooden shelves, workbenches and traditional tools of the trade remain the same as used decades ago but it’s the odor of leather, rubber, glue and ink and a hint of feet lingering in the air that really reminds us this is a proper, old-fashioned cobbler’s shop.
The owner of the shop is Larry Whitman — a master of shoe repair.
“I don’t notice the smell any more,” Whitman said. I’ve grown so used to it but my customers always comment on it favorably.”
Whitman’s wife, Glenda, laughed and said, “We should bottle the smell and sell it.”
Shoe repair is a craft Whitman learned from his father who owned and operated Roy’s Shoe Repair in Largo for decades.
Whitman said his dad’s favorite slogan was, “I might not be a preacher, but I can sure save your soles and he taught me everything about the trade by the time I was 15 years old,” said Whitman, “I’m 67 now.”
There are shoes everywhere in the shop. Those ready for collection are polished and neatly lined up on shelves behind the counter waiting for their owners.
“Every day we get different types of repairs in,” says Whitman, describing his work. “We can usually turn around a repair in a day or two in the summertime,” he said. “Wintertime a little longer.”
Both he and his wife work in the family-run business; their son helping out in the very busy times. Glenda does any stitching work required and fixes wallets, luggage and handbags, as well as meeting and greeting customers.
Each day, bent over his workbench, just like his father, Larry Whitman goes about his trade with tools like a last, hammer and awl. It’s a trade that requires a good eye and dexterity. From stretching to widening insteps to adding eyelets on a leather belt, Whitman uses his impressive skills daily to keep us well-heeled. Larry’s Shoe Repair Shop can fix everything from police and military boots to casual beach sandals.
Along with the usual run of repairs, Larry’s Shoe Repair also does custom orthopedic fittings.
“Doctors send me prescriptions to work from and the customer brings in the shoes,” he said. “I fill the prescriptions for orthotics and I modify shoes with lifts for those with arthritis, heel spurs, pinched nerves and diabetes.”
Like a few other traditional trades, the shoe repair industry has declined over the past 30 years due to the importation of cheap footwear from countries like China and Vietnam — making it cheaper to buy a new pair of shoes rather than repair the old ones.
“These days, not many people buy high quality footwear anymore because it can be very expensive,” Whitman said. “They tend to buy something cheap and then throw it away when they get tired of it. We just don’t get things fixed like we used to,” he says.
Pointing to a pair of high quality women’s pumps on a nearby shelf, he explained, “It only costs $7 to $10 to fix the heels on these, while buying a new pair would cost a couple hundred dollars. The uppers are real leather so the shoe has a much longer life than the heel,” he points out.
“We feel good when we’re able to save someone's favorite shoes, but sometimes we can’t because they’ve not been made in the traditional way.,” said Whitman. “But any shoe that’s got a good foundation is a shoe we can save.”
“Take fashion trainers,” he says shaking his head. “They have rubber and plastic soles that were made in a mold. You can’t resole them.”
In the back of the shop is Whitman’s work area with all the tools and machinery he needs. Lasts that look like upside-down-feet, machines to cut leather, sand, grind, nail, and punch holes. There’s pile upon pile of pre-cut leather soles and heels, slabs of leather, nylon and linen thread for sole stitching and sometimes candle wax to help pull threads through.
“We have every type of shoe repair machinery here,” said Whitman as the shop’s front doorbell tinkled announcing the arrival of a customer.
The customer is Pat Werner, the costume coordinator at Stage West Theater in Hudson, in Pasco County.
“I’ve come to collect some of our performers’ shoes Larry’s repaired,” she says.
"The quality of his work, the materials he uses, it matters,” says Werner. “Taking care of theater shoes is different and Larry keeps our shoes going. I've been bringing the performers’ shoes to Larry’s for years," she said. "I wouldn't take them to anyone else. There is no one else.”
Another customer, Kathy Thompson of Brooksville, visits the shop at around lunchtime. A regular customer at Larry’s, she has come to buy some insoles for her shoes.
"People in the horse community know Larry does good work," said Kathy Thompson, past president of the Nature Coast Back Country Horsemen. “All our equestrians bring their boots and tack to him because he is the best around. He understands how important it is to take care of our stuff.“
Whitman is unique in the county specializing in boots. Stacked from floor to ceiling in the retail side of his business, are hundreds of top-of-the-line dress and work boots including brands like Red Wing, Justin and Chippewa, alongside quality leather belts and sportsmen’s hats.
"People who buy good boots don't throw them away when they get worn down,” said Whitman. “And if I can’t fix them, I’ll sell them a new pair.”
The shop also stocks all the paraphernalia needed to keep our footwear looking good — polishes, color dyes, laces, insoles and boot jacks.
IF YOU GO
Larry's Shoe Repair is located at 704 W Jefferson St., Brooksville
Monday-Friday: 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Saturday: 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Phone: (352) 796-0747