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Will shoe repairers become extinct?

JUST a decade ago most neighbourhoods had their own grocery store, drugstore, tavern and shoe repair shop. But changing lifestyles have brought different kinds of neighbourhoods and some traditional crafts now seem to be on the road to extinction. The most frequently cited reasons for the disappearance of certain traditional crafts are a lack of interest among the younger generation in learning these skills and a general decline in demand for such services.

Breathing new life into old shoes – but for how much longer?(Source: Sme - Ján Krošlák)

JUST a decade ago most neighbourhoods had their own grocery store, drugstore, tavern and shoe repair shop. But changing lifestyles have brought different kinds of neighbourhoods and some traditional crafts now seem to be on the road to extinction. The most frequently cited reasons for the disappearance of certain traditional crafts are a lack of interest among the younger generation in learning these skills and a general decline in demand for such services.

Most young people have no interest in studying the craft of shoe repair and shoemaking, according to Miroslav Kuruc from the Odborné učilište secondary school in the Dúbravka neighbourhood of Bratislava, which previously trained shoemakers and shoe repairers.

“The one and only reason why we closed this study programme was lack of interest among young people in this field of training,” Kuruc told The Slovak Spectator, adding that this means there will be fewer people with these skills in future years.



A dying craft



When asked about the future of their profession, shoe repairers approached by The Slovak Spectator painted a rather gloomy picture.

“I know this craft is dying,” Ján Ambroz, a shoemaker from Banská Bystrica, said. “When I quit this job, it will be totally dead.”

As this story was being prepared and attempts were made to interview a shoemaker who had been recommended by several people, it was discovered that this Bratislava shoe repair shop had closed down because the sole proprietor had died. Deaths of shop owners and high operating costs are the most frequently cited reasons for the disappearance of repair shops.

The typical shoe repairer in 21st-century Slovakia is an older male, self-employed without any additional employees, and without any supplementary employment, according to research carried out for this article. The most common task of a shoe repairer today is replacing the heels on women’s shoes and the shop owners said they have their own “harvest time” just like farmers, with autumn being the most profitable period and much less work available during the other seasons of the year.

Július Béreš, a cobbler from Košice, has worked at this craft all his life and he is not worried that worse times might come and he will lose his customers.

“You know, everyone has to wear shoes,” Béreš told The Slovak Spectator.

Béreš also noted that he had not seen customer numbers falling, but instead had witnessed his colleagues dying off or otherwise closing their shops.

Ambroz of Banská Bystrica has been working at his craft for only five years and said he loves his work, even if the process of getting his business off the ground was tough.

“The beginning was hard,” Ambroz said. “But I was doing my job well and people kept coming back and there have also been some new faces.”

Ambroz added that one factor that has helped his business is the location of his shop.

Shoe repairers call Košice’s old town, with its streets made of cobblestones, a “gold mine” and a local shoe repairer told Košice’s Korzár daily that even the heels of brand-new shoes will not last longer than three days after walking on the city’s cobblestones.

None of the shoe repairers interviewed for this article were teaching their skills to a successor, saying they had not found anyone interested in learning.

“I would have no problem in passing my knowledge on to someone, but even my own son is not interested in it,” Ambroz said. “He’s into computers.”



The author is a student at the University of Economics in Bratislava


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