John Dorroh: East Columbus man has lots of sole

July 9, 2009

John Dorroh - traveler2@cableone.net

 

I have a friend who is a flashy dresser, all the way down to his shoes, which he never throws away. I believe he has the first pair of tennis shoes that he got in junior high. 

 

"Why should I toss out perfectly good shoes when I can get them repaired and make them look brand new?" he asked. 

 

I think Dan is the male version of Imelda Marcos with her 17,000 pairs of shoes. 

 

Since I have limited storage at my house, especially closet space, I must be extremely selective with what goes inside. Shoes? Just a few pairs, and more sports shoes than dress or casual. And unlike Dan, I can house only a few at a time. 

 

I recently discovered a new place to take my shoes when they need repairs or just a good old-fashioned shine. The "office" is in the lobby of an old hotel whose tiled floors scream early ''60s. It''s a place where conversation can be thick like fog. 

 

  

 

Shoe and leather care 

 

On April 3, Herb Billups opened his shop in East Columbus, to the left side of Ranch House Restaurant. The name of the place is Herb''s Shoe and Leather Care. He does all sorts of repairs to shoes and boots, offers shoe shines, and a host of other cleaning and repair jobs. 

 

"No matter what jobs I''ve been doing in my younger life, and no matter where I was doing them, I have had the shoe repair trade in my blood," he said. "I can''t seem to get away from it. ... It has come in handy when I was between other jobs." 

 

  

 

Interesting history 

 

And he has had some jobs, let me tell you! After graduating from Caldwell High School in 1971, he spent a short period of time in the Washington, D.C., area and then joined the Army. His specialty was food handling and safety. 

 

Later he worked at Monsanto Chemicals in Maryland and helped produce the first plastic Coca-Cola bottles. 

 

"I''ve driven the Dial-a-Bus here in Columbus, I''ve sold cars, but I always have had my shoe shop skills handy," he said. 

 

Billups, Columbus-born, started shining shoes at Huff''s Barber Shop when he was a kid. 

 

"My brother asked me one day if I wanted a job and I said, ''Yes. Doing what?''" he said. 

 

At that time there was a barber shop and shoe shine shop that worked together. Billups'' brother worked at the shoe shine shop and set up his little brother to work there. 

 

"I actually taught myself," he said. 

 

  

 

Diverse services 

 

Billups does not handle just shoes, nor is he a cobbler. He cleans and repairs saddles, brief cases, purses and sports-related items. He does not make shoes from scratch, which is what a cobbler does. 

 

"I clean baseball caps, sports shoes, almost anything that needs to be cleaned or repaired," he said. 

 

The basic process includes cleaning the item, conditioning, polishing and buffing. However, he can also change the color on some items, depending on what it is. 

 

"One of my customers came in and asked if I could change the color of her boots. She was on the verge of tossing them out when she decided to ask," said Billups. "I dyed part of the boot at the top and it looked good, so I will dye both entire boots." 

 

Billups believes that because of the present economic environment, an increasing number of people are having their footwear repaired rather than throwing them out. 

 

Prices vary widely at Herb''s. A shoe shine is $5, but a saddle shine can run $35. 

 

"The particular job and the size of the item determine the cost," said Billups. "One saddle may be plain and small while another is for a much larger horse and person and may be very detailed in its design. Naturally I would have to charge more for that saddle." 

 

  

 

More businesses 

 

Although Billups thought about locating downtown, he felt that East Columbus needed more small businesses. 

 

"The man who owned Shelley''s Shoe Repair downtown was going to teach me some advanced shoe repair skills, but unfortunately he passed away before that happened," said Billups. 

 

"Shoe repair is fast becoming a lost art. Not so long ago, most barber shops had a shoe shine business with it. ... Some young person in the family would take over the business as the older person backed away. But young people today don''t see it that way. They don''t seem to want anything to do with shoe repair," Billups said. "And the family shoe shop business just dies out." 

 

"One of my goals is to hire some young person as an apprentice, teach that person the business, be a mentor," he added. 

 

Maybe you''re not Imelda Marcos, but perhaps you have some old shoes lying around that need refurbishing. Visit Billups and give your shoes some new life. 

 

Herb''s Shoe and Leather Care is located at 805-A Alabama Street on Highway 182, to the left of Ranch House Restaurant. He opens his door at 7 a.m. Monday through Saturday. He closes Monday through Friday at 4:30 p.m. and at 3 p.m. on Saturday. And of course he is closed on Sunday because rest is essential for the sole.

John Dorroh is a semi-retired high school science teacher, who writes a business column for The Dispatch.