Address: 290 Russell Street, Melbourne VIC 3000
Phone: (03) 9663 4669
From an interview with Steven that’s been edited.
Rekaris Shoes started in the mid-1950s.
My dad immigrated from Greece after the Civil War and came here with two of his mates. He got a job at Fishermans Bend working at Holden, where many migrants used to work.
My grandfather was a boot-maker and a shoe-repairer in Greece, so my dad knew the trade. He worked two jobs, earned enough to start a shoe-repair shop and eventually ran the business full time.
He brought my grandfather to Melbourne in the 1960s, and set him up with a shoe-repair shop in Coburg.
We have had businesses in the city for sixty years now.
I entered the business through my family.
My dad, grandfather, his brother, my dad’s brother and I are all shoe repairers.
My uncle came here a bit later than my dad and the two of them ran shops on Exhibition St. My dad was next to Lt Bourke St, and my uncle was near Flinders Lane. And I’ve been on Russell St for seven years. They keep rebuilding the properties that I’m in, so I have moved around a few times.
I never thought that I’d enter the family business but – since I was five years old – I’ve been in and around the shop. I worked with my dad during the school holidays and, as I got older, I started fixing heels and other things.
I’ve learned the trade over time.
After school I got into RMIT and studied an electrical technology course.
I got a job at Balwyn Transformers which lasted two years, and I’d work with my dad on the weekend.
That company was bought out by a bigger company, and the cards were on table that they were going to retrench people. I thought I’d leave early, and started working with my dad when I was 21 or 22.
There’s more plastic shoes – and the machines are probably better – but it’s all remained the same.
Fixing shoes is a solid business to be in.
My dad still works.
He’s at the little shop in Coburg which used to be my grandfather’s shop, and is a part of my family’s house. My grandfather became sick in the 1980’s so dad decided to keep that shop going, and I kept the city business going. Sooner or later, I’ll probably head out to Coburg as well.
The trade has its good days and its bad days, and running a business like this isn’t easy. People think, “how lucky you are,” but you sacrifice a lot and you don’t get holidays. Sometimes I’m here seven days a week and there’s no apprenticeship for this.
You mainly learn from someone at a shop, but it’s hard to teach and do the work at the same time. My god-son helps me out now and then, but mostly it’s just me.
He decided to get a proper job.
The heels, soles and zips wear out, so you fix them.
All the usual things to do with shoe-repair.
I like working with them but, besides weddings and funerals, I don’t wear dress shoes. People ask me what’s a good shoe, and I say, one that fits. Fashion is fashion, and it makes you wonder why some designers make certain things. They don’t think about the fact that shoes have to be worn outdoors.
I see people who buy shoes because they’re on special. They’ll bring them here and say, “they don’t fit.”
“Can you do something?”
People love their shoes more than they care about other things, but I don’t really understand it.
I do a few different things – like theatre work and converting runners into cricket shoes– but people come here because I do a good job.
We have old customers who have been coming for a long time, we get referrals and people might read about us online. I like to think that I’m reasonably priced and, because customers leave expensive shoes in the shop, there is a lot of trust involved.
Repairing shoes isn’t a physical job, but you are on your feet all day. You can get tendonitis in your hands and shoulders and carpal-tunnel in your wrists because you’re always doing the same thing. The glues are toluene free, but I can’t smell the leather anymore. You get used to it. And, because things don’t change much, it’s a job you can do till your latter years.
You have to think about how to fix things now and then which is mentally stimulating, and there’s satisfaction in doing a good job. I tell people not to expect a new shoe because it is a repair but – when customers say that it’s like brand new – it makes you feel good.
I suppose that I’m creating something.
For the most part it’s a boring job, but I derive enjoyment from the people that I meet.
There’s a kid who goes to kindergarten up the road and, every day, she makes her parents stop. She won’t leave until we exchange hellos. It has nothing to do with shoe repairs or the business. She says hello, I say hi back, and that’s gratifying. It’s not an office environment where you see the same people every day. You get stuff like that.
And I hope this trade doesn’t die off in the future. My father came here for a good life, and to send his kids to school. That’s like most parents who start a business. But, if the kid doesn’t want to learn the trade, the owner has to find someone else to take over the business.
Shoe-repairers often learn the trade from their parents so – if the next generation doesn’t want to continue – I’m not sure what will happen.
The city has changed heaps.
I love its multiculturalism, with people from all over the place.
And while the complexion of shops in the CBD is different – with a lot of little businesses opening up over the years – there is still a place for tailors and shoe-repairers.
I’m nearly 60 now. At my age, a good or bad day depends on how I wake up. You ask any person that works in a shop, if you get the wrong customer, it can spoil a day for you. But I’ve kept this as a friendly, messy place.
If my dad came in here he’d faint, but it’s organised chaos.
Written by Aron Lewin, with all photos by Tatiana C C Scott
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