In a small workshop at the back of a commercial premises, where natural light barely reaches and where flashes of white light from light bulbs make it difficult to distinguish the passage of time, a man seated in front of a blue machine stares into a shoe The device you are in front of It is a finishing machine An indispensable tool in the shoe repair profession. And the man is a cobbler. In front of the machine, the individual spends his time repairing the shoe in his hands. First he scrapes the sole with one of the sandpapers that is on the side of the machine, he does it carefully, while the device makes a slight noise when it comes into contact with the shoe . Then, when there is nothing left to remove, take a small brush, but with a thick brush, and spread the glue over the entire bottom surface of the shoe. When he’s finished, he searches among his artefacts for a suitable sole for the shoe, the one that fits the object perfectly and places it on the glue. Then place the shoe in the press and allow the pressure to force the shoe into place. The press is doing its job. Now all that remains is to fine-tune the final details. She picks up the necessary tools, smiles at the other person in the workshop, a blond woman who is mending a sewing machine.
The man’s name is Francisco Javier Martín and the woman next to him is his partner, María Jesús. Together, they practice shoemaking, a craft activity that has gradually fallen into disuse. Thus, the business that the couple runs in the Rollo neighborhood is one of the many shops dedicated to shoemaking that have decided to bet on maintaining the roots of the trade and continuing to operate in Salamanca. Example of a sector that has changed a lot over the years and that today, faced with the change of model and the rise of the disposable culture, its influence has diminished.
A couple and a family of shoemakers
Francisco Javier and María Jesús have been in the business for a long time. Without going very far, Francisco has been in the trade for thirty years and is the son of a long family tradition of shoemakers. María Jesús, for her part, joined the premises a little over ten years ago and, although she still lacks the courage to call herself an expert, she can carry out any mission that is given to her. proposed. She does not come from a family of shoemakers, but it was her love affair with Francisco that led her to discover the trade. “After I had the kids, I decided to come and help her a little at the shoe store and well, I stayed here,” he says, while joking that he can’t get rid of it. of him one minute a day: “we are together all the time, both for good and for bad.
The family business, now run by the couple, is full of shoes of all kinds. In the customer reception area, the shoes are piled up in an orderly fashion on different shelves aligned one on top of the other. There is no longer an empty space in them. And, as if that weren’t enough, at the back, the shoe lines get longer and longer. In total, there may be about fifty pairs, maybe more. “Now I don’t know how many shoes I have, a lot, I know,” Francisco jokes as he looks around the room. He gives the impression that he will try to calculate them, but it doesn’t matter. There are a lot of them and that’s it. It is not necessary to say the exact number.
The place is small, but the order in it makes it seem bigger. In the back, where the workshop is and where all the magic happens, Francisco and his wife work tirelessly. The two have worked together for many years now and little by little they have learned to complement each other. They move with such synchronization that they stretch every cubic centimeter they have. They each focus on their own, while they take turns serving customers who come through the door from time to time with their enquiries.
And it is that, during these days of the beginning of the season, the couple does not stop receiving orders. So, although the rest of the year they also benefit from a fixed clientele, it is now in autumn and winter that the company has its most productive time. “It’s our high season, our peak time,” comments Francisco, who is quick to explain why: “mainly because in winter, you need better shoes to face the cold. In other words, it is generally a quality shoe. That’s why people bother to fix it.”
A forgotten job?
Despite recent changes and claims by some that the business is on the way out, the couple continue to enjoy their fair share of commissions. A fact that keeps Francisco in a carefree attitude: “Right now there is work and much more than people imagine. What will happen in the future? I really do not know. The world is changing a lot. Maybe in a few years disposable shoes will be invented and the profession will disappear, or maybe the opposite will happen and we will have more work, who knows. The important thing is now and, for the moment, the business gives us to maintain ourselves and to be well”, explains the shoemaker, while commenting that he does not exclude that in the face of the new wave of thought ecological, repairing shoes instead of throwing them away are starting to gain ground.
Moreover, he points out that, contrary to what many people think, a large part of his clients are young people. “A lot of young people come here, especially since the exercise has become very popular these days. The new generations now do a lot of sport and that wears their shoes more,” he explains, while emphasizing that among his usual clientele, they have a bit of everything. “Middle-aged, we also have a lot of customers, but they usually come to fix another type of shoe, a little more formal, if you will. Then, the elderly, whom some consider our strong clientele, walk less over the years, so their shoes last longer. It is therefore not the group that visits us the most”, he comments.
Homework: the most common, the funniest and the least appreciated
The orders they receive in commerce are of all kinds, from the most common, such as changing soles, uppers and linings, to the most absurd. “They even brought us a pressure cooker to fix,” says María Jesús between two laughs, of course we had to say no. How are we going to fix a pressure cooker in a shoe store?”
“We can’t say that we have common arrangements, on the contrary, those we receive are diverse arrangements, but we have received curious orders. For example, it often happens to us that a person has a very, very old shoe and besides being old it is bad, but for some reason they are particularly fond of it and want to repair it at all costs. Then he brings us a shoe which is in a terrible state. In these cases, we normally have to tell the customer that they are already unrecoverable, but often the person does not stick to this answer, but insists and insists. It’s funny to see the trouble people go to to save a shoe that no longer works, but unfortunately you can’t do magic either,” recalls Javier.
“Another thing that usually happens is that you do a repair and you say: my God, how good, when the customer comes and sees it, how happy they are going to be! and it turns out that the owner of the shoe comes looking for it and doesn’t notice. It gives more or less the same thing. It’s sad because it takes a lot of effort and dedication and sometimes people don’t appreciate it, but I think it’s because they don’t know all the time and work that goes into every pair of shoes, it’s a shame”.
Times change, so does the job
During his many years as a shoemaker, Francisco Javier has seen various changes in the trade and since he started his first job in the shoe shop at the age of just eighteen, the world has stopped moving. “For me, the biggest change has been in what people are looking for. Before the repair it was more about getting the shoes out, now we get everything. Also, the tools we have are becoming more and more specialized. Before , the same was used for all shoes. The same glue, the same sole and the same methods. Currently, as shoes are made with all kinds of materials, you have to be more precise. Glues for example have evolved a lot, it There are hundreds of them, each for a specific material and floors. [las suelas]now there are those with more grip, smoother, for rock, for the mountain, for everything… The machinery, on the contrary, has not changed much, it continues to be more or less the same as when I started”, details Francisco Javier, who He will continue to speak, but is interrupted when he hears the sound of the door opening. An older man enters with a big smile. he man is not a customer, but Paco, Francisco’s father, who taught him the trade of shoemaker and who gladly joins the topic of conversation.
“Before, things were different. We changed several machines because they were improving and we had to integrate them. I don’t even remember how many we had. The orders, moreover, were very different. One of the things we did the most was custom shoes. ufff, we did a lot! Now that’s hardly done anymore,” comments Paco with a certain nostalgia.
“Well, dad, it’s just that everything changes,” Francisco replies. Now we do other types of work: no more repairs of sports shoes, mountain shoes…
–Yes, yes – Paco agrees – a lot of sport. This is what most young people use.
“Of course, it’s the fashion,” his son told him, smiling. We have to adapt to them.
“It’s true”, intervenes María Jesús -. Things have come a long way and almost anything can be fixed. Work has changed, but the important thing is to know how to adapt to these changes.
An opinion that she shares with her husband, who has also pointed out that, like all professions, shoemakers are in continuous learning and development: “Before, for example, there were almost no sports shoes and c That’s why they weren’t fixed. Now there are and the sector has adapted to be able to repair them. In the future something else will surely come and we will have to transform ourselves to be able to face it. It’s a constant evolution, like everything in life. For this reason, trading becomes more complex every day. These days almost anything can be repaired and shoemaking techniques are more specialized.”
– Yes, that’s why I always say: before throwing, ask, what insurance can be fixed. There are many people who, out of ignorance, get rid of things when they have a long useful life ahead of them,” María Jesús points out.