PALESTINE — Robert Lane is one of a disappearing breed of shoe repairmen.
After a railroad career, he fulfilled a longing to follow in his father’s footsteps and became a cobbler. He repairs shoes and boots on the same machines his father used.
City Shoe Shop is virtually a museum of shoe repair equipment.
There’s a stitching machine from the 1920s, a 1940s finisher, two 1930s Singer sewing machines and other old machines.
His father, Ernest Lane, bought the shop in 1943 and kept it going until his death in October 2009 with the help of his wife, Clara, who was the bookkeeper and sales purchasing agent.
“I came in as a child and sat and watched him and I was interested in it from a young age. I learned the business from my dad and my mother,” Robert Lane said.
His parents sent him and his sister to The University of Texas and later Robert Lane spent 38 years as a claims manager for Union Pacific Railroad.
Robert Lane opted to retire about five years ago and work in the shoe shop. “I had always kind of wanted to do it,” he said.
He works on women’s and men’s boots and shoes, putting on half soles, full soles, heels and other repairs. He puts zippers in western boots and does some basic dye work. He makes orthopedic build-ups for customers who may have one leg shorter than the other.
The shoe shop also sells new boots, leather belts, billfolds, polishes, shoe treatments and leather conditioners. The business consists of “kind of equal” parts of repairs and sales, Robert Lane said.
He estimated about 95 percent of repairs are on boots.
“A lot of times it will cost more to get shoes fixed than it would be to get a new pair. Boots are high dollar and repairable. Most boots are manufactured like they were 50 years ago but the way the shoes are manufactured now, many of them aren’t repairable,” Robert Lane said.
For that reason, shoe shops are becoming “kind of a thing of the past,” he observed.
City Shoe Shop attracts customers from Palestine, Fairfield, Crockett, Grapeland, Jacksonville, Corsicana and Lufkin.
“The shop has been here so long some of the people coming in here are children or grandchildren (of) my parents’ customers,” Robert Lane said.
“I guess seeing a little old man working on boots on those old machines is kind of a novelty,” he said. His wife, Sandra, handles bookkeeping, purchasing, bill paying and accounts receivable.
“I want it to be a good value for our customers,” Robert Lane said. “I take a lot of pride in doing it right.”