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Born to Repair His Customers' Soles

Local shoe repair shop in downtown Glen Ellyn celebrates 60 years in business.

A former Glen Ellyn resident has been walking around in his father's size 9.5 work shoes since 1982. Thanks to Doug Herwaldt's longtime Glen Ellyn business , Jim Holland's black wing-tip dress shoes, circa 1950, are still fit for use.

For 60 years, customers have traveled from all over to visit Paul's Shoe Service in downtown Glen Ellyn for shoe fixes and other services. Some might say Herwaldt comes from a shoe family dynasty.    

Doug's grandfather David, who came to the United States from Germany, settled in Maywood and opened his own shoe repair shop. His son, Doug's dad Paul, began working in the shop, and so began the Herwaldt shoe legacy. 

After returning home from war in 1947, Paul continued to work for his father and soon after at Florsheim Shoe Company in Chicago. It was Paul's dream to have his own store, so when he learned Glen Ellyn Shoe Repair was for sale he bought the storefront and opened the doors to Paul's Shoe Service.

In 1979, Herwaldt became the owner, along with his wife Mary and the two also run a .  

A Down Economy is Good News for Shoe Repair Services

Though a troubled economy brings bad news to some businesses, it's been a blessing for Herwaldt. For the last five years, Herwaldt has seen more customers come through his door.

“We have people coming in droves,” he said. “This year is the busiest that we've ever been. I spent the least amount of advertising that I ever have. Realistically, in the last five years, we've dropped our advertising costs by more than half and we're doing twice as much business.”

But Herwaldt has seen tough times with a shift in consumer attitudes.

During these past 60 years, Herwaldt has seen many changes in his industry and changes in footwear has had a big impact on his business.

“When my father first got started, there were shoe repair stores in every corner,” he said. “Nowadays, because a lot of shoes are made very cheaply, they're pretty much a throwaway product where you wear them out and you throw them away," said Herwaldt.

"We had to evolve and diversify, and do so many different things. Our core is still the shoe repair, but it's not like it was even 20 years ago.”

Herwaldt said that things changed when the trend went from wearing dressy shoes to casual footwear at the office. People tend to think these shoes can't be repaired, which Herwaldt said isn't the case. 

“They just assume that, 'Well, I buy these shoes and when they wear out, I throw them away. It's kind of our fault for not educating people. Because of that thinking, people are not buying dress shoes, as much as they used to.”

Even though more individuals are tossing out their shoes, Herwaldt says customers come in for minor rips and tears. And many of his customers invest in higher-end foot fashions and rely on Herwaldt to make them last a long time.

“Most of my customers are those who buy high-quality shoes and spend a lot of money on them, especially men." Typically, Herwaldt said, these customers spend hundreds of dollars on a pair of shoes, which can retail for as much as $400.

Stepping Out of the Box

While Herwaldt concentrates on providing shoe repairs, he's had to evolve his business, offering more services to attract more customers. Some of those services include specialty repairs on purses, luggage, sports bags, saddles, equestrians boots and other tannery work.

One of the more popular services is repairing and sharpening ice skates, as well as offering refurbished used skates.

“In 1955, someone told my dad that Glen Ellyn is a big skating town,” Herwaldt said.

"Last year was probably, by far, our best year in the ice skate business," said Herwaldt. "I've never sold so many pairs of skates, as I did last year. It's amazing. I'm literally trying to build my stock back up because I sold so many.”

But Herwaldt keeps more than just the ice skates sharp. People bring in their kitchen knives, lawnmower blades and lawn tools. And Herwaldt has developed a reputation for his varied shoelace stock, so much so that people from different areas travel to his store.

The secret to 60 years of success for Herwaldt is creating customer loyalty through flexible hours and a dedication to his hometown. But above all, Herwaldt said it's about providing quality work to a customer like Holland, who wants to keep walking in his father's shoes.  

“The reason that I've been able to reach the heights that I have is because my father provided me a good pair of shoes to walk in,” said Holland. "Doug told me to replace them but he keeps patching them up for me because I don't want to lose them.”

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