George Marinakes is a second generation shoe repair man. His son, Ted, works part-time in the busy shop. Ted has a full-time job but helps his dad out in the evenings and on Saturdays. Both father and son are quick to laughter and very helpful. During my two hours in the shop, every customer left with a smile on their face.
“I’ve had the shop since … 1952. My dad started it in 1928, September the 1st…
When I started working here 70 years ago, there were 20 shoe repair shops in Richmond. Now we’re the only one. We’re ‘the last of the Mohicans’. We’ve always had a good business here.”
“I think Dad’s had me down here [since] I was about 6 or 7 years old. Shining shoes, starting out.”
Has business been affected by mass produced and cheaper shoes?
“Things are getting harder to fix because there’s a lot of plastics. Glues don’t stick to the plastics. A lot of stuff is molded instead of built.”
George later introduces me to the only glue that works on molded soles. He was re-glueing the sole of a sneaker. The glue is from Germany and very expensive. He kept asking me if I could smell it. It is very strong. His doctor has told him to stop using it: George has asthma. George’s doctor has also told him to retire.
“The old saying is:
‘If you’re happy with your work, then the customer is happy with your work, also.’
So if you’re not satisfied with your work, if your work didn’t come out like you wanted, the customer will know it and will not be satisfied with your work, either. So as long as you’re pleased with it and your work looks good … then you know you’ve accomplished something and that works out to please both parties. That’s the main thing. Anything that you do. Your work or anybody else’s. If you look at it and say ‘Well I’ve accomplished something here, it’s amazing and something I appreciate,’ [then] the customer will appreciate it also. That’s what brings them back.
It’s not how much advertising you do. It’s satisfaction between the two parties that brings a better result.”
So you’ve never advertised?
“No, I’ve never advertised. It’s been mouth to ear and that’s about it. It’s been good.”
You seem to have plenty of work!
“Always. Too much work. I want to retire! I’m 85 years old and I don’t have a chance to retire yet because I gotta wait for Ted to retire [from his day job]… I’ll be 93 years old, I’ll be an old man then! [laughter] I know I’ll want to retire then. Oh well, that’s the way life goes.”
George’s parting advice:
“[Another] old saying is:
‘There’s no easy sailing when the sky is clear and blue,
There’s no merit in doing things that anyone can do,
Satisfaction which is mighty sweet to take,
When you reach something you never thought you’d make.’
There’s a lot of truth in that. That’s what I’ve always looked at and thought about. That’s what keeps you going. An old watchmaker told me that about 60 some years ago.”