MANITOWOC, Wis. — When Jim Polsene entered a shoe repair shop in Woodstock, Ill., looking for a job 40 years ago, he never thought shoe repair would become his career.
Jim's Shoe Repair has been part of Manitowoc for 25 years since opening his shop at 602 Chicago St. in 1987.
Polsene, 61, said he didn't know what he wanted to do for a job before he entered Bill's Shoe Repair in December 1973. It was his father's idea to get into the shoe repair business, he told HTR Media (http://htrne.ws/14ufAUX ).
After a year and half learning the trade, Polsene bought Bill's Shoe Repair and started the first Jim's Shoe Repair. But in 1976, a fire burned down his business, Polsene said
"I was living at home, and I still stayed home until I was 25," he said. "In fact, that fire is what pushed me out."
Following his love for fishing and memories of vacationing in Wisconsin, Polsene moved from Barrington, Ill., to Antigo and opened the second Jim's Shoe Repair, buying out Tomany's Shoe Repair.
Wisconsin winters became too much, he said, so he moved south in 1986. He eventually settled in Albuquerque, N.M., but moved back to Wisconsin after eight months.
"I felt like a fish out of water," Polsene said. "I thought, 'Oh, no, back to shoe repair,' so maybe it was good that I did that to kind of get that out of my system."
Polsene eventually settled in Manitowoc and bought Van's Shoe Repair in 1987.
When Polsene began repairing shoes 40 years ago, it was done "the old-fashioned way," he said. Shoes were mostly sewed together and there were a variety of heels and soles.
Also in the past, soles and heels were on shoes separately, and most shoes today have the heels and soles molded together, according to Polsene.
"Those days aren't completely over because there are still some shoes made like that — not too many though," Polsene said.
Instead of sewing separate heels and soles, Polsene mostly uses glue when repairing. He said to fix the heel on some molded shoes, the heel needs to be ground down and a new one glued on.
"If I hadn't learned how to glue properly, I would be out of business," Polsene said.
Unlike the changing methods of shoe repair, Polsene said the stitching and patching equipment he uses has remained unchanged for decades. One of his machines is from the 1930s. He said few companies make new machines and they are expensive.
In the 27 years since opening his shop, Polsene said he has never advertised or listed a phone number, which hasn't slowed down business. His advertising comes from word-of-mouth and regular customers, some of whom have been coming to him for 25 years.
"I get a lot of repeat customers — lots of them," Polsene said. "They just keep coming in."
Polsene said not only do customers come in to get their shoes repaired, but his shop also is a hub for people wanting to discuss topics openly — like a barbershop. He said some customers ask him about politics and religion.