January 29, 2014 9:49:25 AM
William Browning - [email protected]
In the late 1970s, Tommy Coggins, not knowing the first thing about repairing shoes, opened a business in Columbus called Coggins Shoe Shop.
He was a young man then and set about teaching himself the art of the cobbler. He did so through trial and error, and must have done a fine job.
For nearly four decades he has done a little bit of everything for folks needing footwear repairs. He got rid of scratches and fixed broken heels. He did resoling and polishing. He sold boots. He sold shoes.
He always stayed busy and always loved his work. But next month, after 36 years, Coggins is closing the doors.
"It's time to go," he said Tuesday from behind his counter.
Walking away from his life's work wasn't an easy decision. It's been on his mind a while, though.
Coggins is 67 now. His twin brother Jacky died in August. Ever since, Coggins has been thinking about closing his 1,000 square foot shop at 2014 Hwy. 45 North. A few months ago he made the decision.
"I figured while I got my health still I better go ahead and do something," he said.
Coggins hasn't picked a closing date, but it will be in February, after the remaining boots and shoes on the shelves have been sold at a discounted price.
When the doors do close, it will be the end of an era. Coggins is the last cobbler working in Columbus.
"We're a dying breed," he said. "Nobody goes into the shoe repair business anymore."
Asked why that is the case, Coggins said, "it's a throw-away society."
Wesley Jones, whose family has owned Jones Shoe Shop on South Lafayette Street in Starkville since 1940, agreed. He said people these days seem to favor buying "plastic shoes" that can not be repaired, only replaced.
"When you see a shoe repair business close, you won't see another open," Jones said.
Even though his craft is fading, Coggins has no regrets.
"I always thought the good Lord led me to it," he said of his business. "It was my niche in life."
He says he will certainly miss the work, but also his customers. His shop, where country music plays in the background, has been the type of place where customers do as much idle talking as business. They came from places as far away as Winona and Decatur, Ala., and Coggins knew most of their names.
As for what's next in his life, Coggins has nothing specific planned.
"Whatever I do it's not going to be on a schedule," he said with a laugh. "Unless my wife says different."
William Browning was managing editor for The Dispatch until June 2016.