Lyle Johnson, left, brings his shoes into Dawson's Shoe Repair on 7th st. where owner and cobbler, Bob Wood, right, assesses what will need to be done to get them back into tip-top shape. The job is a simple one. "Don't worry now, we'll have you dancing in no time," Wood assures Johnson jokingly.
George Wren, 56, previous owner of Wren's Birkenstock, a shoe repair/retail store on Broadway, sews a pair of brown loafers in a room of Dawson's Shoe Repair accessible to customers by way of a small window. Eight months after both the death of Bob Wood's father, Estel, and the closing of Wren's Birkenstock, Wren took a job "doing the rips," or sewing, at Dawson's. Though it used to be Wren's least favorite part about cobblery, 6 months spent selling shoes at Dillard's was enough to make George miss the environment, which to him, feels like home. "Wearing a two-piece suit, that's just not me," Wren said about working at the department store. Aside from missing the environment, Wren has found a new appreciation for the sewing machine. "It's the most creative part of the job. It's like, 'OK, how can this be done?' It's a constant challenge," he said.
Bob Wood, left, reviews a color chart with George Wren, right, in order to find what fabric would best match the red in a pair of shoes needing repair. When asked what got Wren into shoe repair in the first place, he said that he liked working with his hands, the independence, and the dual gratification from the position. "Not only do you get to see what you're accomplishing, you're also helping people with their problems." The two consult a scrap fabric bucket with no close enough matches to satisfy either of them and because the customer did not need them right away, they decided to wait for materials better suited for the job to be uncovered so that the highest quality work could be done on the pair.
Numerous spools of thread of assorted colors hang behind the late Estel Wood's sewing machine, where George Wren waits to repair seams on the shoes, handbags, and other apparel that come through the door of Dawson's Shoe Repair store on 7th Street. Estel's tools, sewing machine, and even his chair and cushion remain in the same spot that they had when he was alive, though his leather apron sits in the display case directly inside the store's entrance. Estel learned under his father, Forrest Henry Wood, and was the lead shoe repairman on the island of Guam for two years during WWII. George admitted that it was a "little weird" at first, working where Estel had for so many years, especially using his tools and chair, but he said that after sewing his first pair of shoes, he looked up and asked Estel if he had done a good job, if he'd done the shoes justice. "And I knew what his answer was too," Bob said with his eyes lighting up. "He'd look at me and say, 'Well do you think that you did a good job?" "Yeah, Estel, yeah I think I did and he'd say, 'Well, alright, then you did a good job." George rushed out to Bob to recount the story and Bob nodded his head, "That's Dad," Bob said, "he'd say, 'you know, you did, if you'd be proud to wear them."
George Wren, 56, recalls his history in cobblery- his apprenticeship in Centralia in the '70s, buying his own shoe repair store behind the Tiger Barber Shop on 9th street in 1981, spending 13 years on Walnut St. repairing shoes in the Berry building, and then 16 years running Wren's Birkenstock on Broadway, where he both repaired shoes and sold Birkenstocks. His store closed its doors on December 31 2009 and George briefly took a job in shoe retail at the department store, Dillard's until Wood offered him a position doing the rips for him in place of Wood's late father, Estel. Pictured behind George is Estel Wood's chair, cushion, sewing machine, and tools, which George uses regularly.