The Shoe Repair Guys: Mr. Holmes and Mr. Norrell

Yesterday it was liquor stores, today it is shoe repairmen. Mr. Holmes is on the Jacksboro Highway in northwest Fort Worth whereas Mr. Norrell is in Keller just north of my part of Fort Worth. As always there is more here than the mere description of what they do.

You had a couple of favorite pairs of shoes, which you had owned for several years. They fit you well, and you liked the way they looked. I had three pairs of boots, which I had more than once had resoled and fixed over the years. Why buy new stuff if the stuff you have is what you like?

Since these physical objects do wear and age like anything and everyone, they periodically need to get restored to their former condition. Thus with such footwear, one needs a shoe repair guy. And we both had our favorites. Each person was similar to the other, but like the clouds in the sky, they were not identical either.

Both of our guys, Mr. Holmes and Mr. Norrell, had more in common than what they did not. Like many such craftsmen they had small shops with old, worn, but working equipment. Their shops were in small buildings—nowhere near the usual bright, new shopping centers most people usually frequented. They saved money on overhead and were in places that had some character and history as well.

The personalities of the two men were a bit different. While both were friendly, they were not twins either. Mr. Norrell was more outgoing than Mr. Holmes who was a little gruff. As far as telling us when the work would be done, Mr. Norrell was a little vague while Mr. Holmes was more precise.

As far as money and things go, their prices were similar; repairing shoes had a market value just like anything else in our economy. The insides of their shops were not new, but they were not run down either. Both locations had the feel one gets when inside of an old building built decades ago. The décor was from an earlier era, which reminded me of something on old TV shows like Andy Griffith. Their places of business were perhaps artifacts of sorts—data for a cultural archaeologist to use in some history of commercial businesses and their structures.

These two men and their businesses tell us something about our culture. The media and politicians constantly espouse the idea of the small business and the people who own them. In our age of large corporations and mass retailing, such businesses are an island in a constantly rising sea of increased conformity and efficiency driven uniformity.

Contrasted with that modern reality, these two men are to be admired and also people to give one’s business to. The money one pays for their services is worth far more than the utility they provide. The true value lies with what they do for us as a culture, which sprawls outside of their small doors in the endless strip centers of modern retailing. They provide a reminder to us that a person can do something on their own besides just be an employee of a Fortune 500 company like Wal-Mart. They show us that individual effort still makes a real difference, and that small businesses are something that should be valued for more reasons than just the services they supply.


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