The History of Fred's Shoe Repair

How it all began...

Fred's Shoe Repair of Peoria History

 

Fred was the first in his family to specialize in cobbling. Born in Lebanon, he immigrated to the U.S. in 1957 in order to work and take advantage of “the land of opportunity.” While his father was a taxi driver, Fred developed a unique talent for cobbling. When he arrived in Peoria, it was a booming industrial town with a large population of Lebanese immigrants. Initially, he bounced around, doing work for various area shops, before he eventually found a steady job at the old Bergner’s department store in downtown Peoria.

 

Back then, Bergner’s housed nine other cobblers in its basement, a far cry from today, when repairs are consigned to specialty shops like Fred’s and a very few others in the area. In these times, when disposability trumps durability, it’s easy to forget that a large department store once held a fully functioning shop dedicated to such reclamation. Here in the store’s basement, Ray came to immerse himself in his father’s trade.

 

After classes let out for the day, Ray would take the bus to Bergner’s from Manual High School, where he would “hang out with my dad for a couple of hours until they closed.” At first, he “just watched,” admiring his father’s work, but Ray would soon find that cobbling and the other repairs that he would one day perform himself came naturally to him. “It was just in my blood.”

In 1971, Fred moved out of Bergner’s to start his own business on Prospect Road—the original Fred’s Shoe Repair. He ran this shop for more than 35 years, until a shoulder injury made it difficult to use his hammer in repair work, and he was forced to send many of his customers to Ray’s shop on University. Eventually, Fred closed the Prospect shop, and after a bit of discussion, went to work part-time for his son. On March 31st of this year, Ray moved his business to the intersection of University and Forrest Hill, a location that offers increased visibility and better parking.

 

The move coincided with a recent uptick in business for the shop, as Fred’s Shoe Repair has prospered, in spite of—or perhaps because of—the economic downturn. With consumers pinching pennies and scaling back budgets, the value of repair over replacement has come back into vogue. An increased focus on environmental sustainability may be another factor—Ray’s business is recycling, after all. 

 

(from "A Way of Life: Fred's Shoe Repair" iBi Peoria Magazine September 2010)

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