Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 20, 2013
SALISBURY — I was picking through bones. When Sang Nam Kung closed his shoe repair shop on the Square because of illness, he left everything as it was.
The calendar is stuck on May, but the wall clock still keeps perfect time — odd, because the rest of the shop inhabits a freeze frame.
Sang’s spectacles and a dusty cellphone are on a top shelf behind the counter, next to a rack of Meltonian shoe polishes.
In various parts of the basement shop, shoes, belts and handbags are tagged and sometimes bagged, waiting to be picked up. Sang’s tools are scattered to the spots in the shop where they came in handiest — the blades, saws, picks, pliers, hammers, scissors and glue pots.
There are stacks of soles and heels and ancient machinery with names such as Adler, Champion, Landis and American. Black and menacing, they were needed for jobs such as buffing, soling, sewing and stitching.
A battered cash register shows the last repair cost $5. A slot in the cash drawer still holds a ticket.
Since 2008, Ted and Cheryl Goins were Sang’s landlord, and they adored the cobbler and his shop. They often talked with Sang about his grandchildren.
If Sang seemed a bit crusty and terse when dealing with the public, they say, it could be blamed mostly on his difficulties with the language.
Sang, of Korean descent, depended on few words and was brutally honest about whether he could fix your shoes, or whatever else you brought to him. If your item was leather, the chances were good Sang could make the repair.
If it was plastic, the outlook was grim.
“We’re a throwaway society,” Ted Goins laments.
Goins came to consider Sang’s shop the next-to-last stop in town for shoes, purses and belts, because if Sang couldn’t fix them, Goins often saw those items, especially shoes, tossed into the city trash can near the shop’s door.
When he did make repairs, Sang’s work was impeccable, and the prices reasonable. “That man could repair anything,” Delores Thomas says.
Men could wear their favorite pair of dress shoes for decades by taking them by the shoe repair shop for a periodic retreading or restitching.
The same went for women’s boots and purses.
“I’ll always remember taking my favorite pair of boots to Sang several years ago,” Wanda Deal Williams says. “After looking at my boots, he said, ‘Boot broke.’ He fixed them anyway.”
Carol Carpenter says the closing of the shoe repair shop is the loss of another Salisbury institution.
“I remember Mother going there year after year,” Carpenter says, “and whoever owned it at the time could fix anything. I used to love the smell of leather and polish and just the ‘old’ smell of the place.”
Sang worked out of the shop for about a dozen years. Cheryl Goins thinks the location, which is below her Pottery 101 store, served as a shoe repair shop since the 1930s.
Before that, according to a 1915 Post story, A.B. Saleeby might have used the basement for his candy and ice cream business.
It’s easy to be nostalgic for places like this, because we realize we won’t see them again. Not many people are going into the shoe repair business.
Plus, the place had so much character — Sang included. From the East Innes Street sidewalk, you walked down two steps and through wooden doors, padlocked now. Inside, the ceiling was low enough to make you feel as though you should hunch over.
Outside, a cloth awning covered the entrance, and a white sign with red letters said simply “Shoe Repair.” I don’t think Sang ever gave his shop a formal name.
Its being so small on the imposing brick facade of the rest of the building made the shop intriguing, even to artists. At home, we have a framed print of Robert Toth’s painting of the shoe repair shop in our kitchen.
One by one, we lose places like this through the years. Remember, not so long ago, we took for granted Bernhardt Hardware, Al’s Night Hawk, O.O. Rufty’s General Store, Bucky’s Produce Stand and the State Smokeshop.
Now they’re gone. “Progress,” it seems, depends a lot on subtractions.
When Ted and Cheryl Goins learned Sang was sick, needed to deal with his illness and meant to close his business for good, they told him not to worry about cleaning out all the stuff.
Sang’s taking care of himself was their main concern.
So here it is, frozen in time, the bones of a man’s work. There’s no rush to touch anything in the shop or clean it out. In fact, it seems right to leave it alone for awhile and think about the future later.
“We just haven’t gotten that far,” Ted says.
Since the shoe repair shop’s closing, several readers say they have taken shoes for repair to M&S Cleaners. A sign on the closed shop’s door also directs people to a shoe repair business in Concord.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or firstname.lastname@example.org.