One of Duluth’s first ever drive-up windows wasn’t connected to a burger joint or photo hut. It actually showed up around 90 years ago in a much more modest location. The drive-up is one of the defining characteristics of Pasco’s Shoe Repair, which recently re-opened after a six-year hiatus. The surprisingly subtle neon sign in the window that plainly reads “shoe repair” does all it can to attract the attention of busy travelers driving up and down Sixth Avenue East.
The inside of Pasco’s resembles a cross between an antique shop and a mechanic’s garage. Old shoes, tools and equipment clutter the shelves and corners of the tight workspace. In the far end of the store, there is a television set where a talking head speaks the word of the Lord. This goes mostly ignored. After all, there are plenty of shoes to be repaired. Amid all of this disorder, Chris Schweiger, the owner and lone worker of Pasco’s, gets ready to repair a well-traveled pair of boots.
He begins this process by sanding down the sole so he can start the repairs from scratch. He does this with a massive disk sander. This machine, much like most of the other equipment in the shop, is very old as it has been here throughout most of the building’s rich history.
After Schweiger finishes with the sanding, he turns to his right where a workbench waits patiently with a wide array of tools. Schweiger’s movements all come with the grace of a man who has done the job thousands of times. An average of 40 customers drop their shoes off for repair every week which keeps Schweiger, and his tools, very busy.
“You can take great care of a pair of shoes, but if you wear them, the soles are going to get worn out,” Schweiger said, as he hammers newly sculpted rubber onto the boot. “That is what a lot of customers come here for.”
The customers keep coming, too. Many of them have had their shoes repaired here their whole lives and felt a bit disoriented when Pasco’s closed six years ago. There are 8,000 shoe repair shops in the United States, and many of them are flourishing as people try to save money in rough economic times.
After getting the new sole on the bottom of the boot, Schweiger proceeds to take the three steps to the other side of his work area to cut the excess rubber off. He uses an ancient-looking device that looks sort of like an old green sewing machine with a hand crank on the back. Schweiger casually turns the crank, and it turns a round blade. This blade snugly rides the line of the boots’ edges and cuts away the extra rubber.
“This is one sharp blade,” Schweiger said as the last piece of rubber falls to the floor. “Would hate to get a finger or something caught in here.”
After he is done cutting, he turns to his right almost automatically and begins the stitching process. Schweiger has a machine that does this too; all he has to do is keep his hand steady. He does this easily with a lifetime of experience and a surgeon’s precision. The machine stitches the sole to the bottom of the boot as Schweiger turns to match it up with the edges.
“I’ve done this for so long that it just comes natural to me now,” Schweiger said. “Ever since I graduated high school, I’ve fixed shoes because my brothers were always laid off from their jobs and shoe repair was stable.”
After the last stitch is set, Schweiger examines his work carefully and smiles to himself proudly. He puts a yellow tag on the boot and sets it aside. Then he walks to the front counter, grabs the next pair and prepares to go through the process all over again.
Here's another look at Schweiger's Shoe Repair from the Duluth News Tribune
For other shoe repair shops around the Duluth area, check out this Google Map: