In the heart of Greene County, Ohio, a humble shoemaker labors away at his workbench in preparation for the holiday season. Ok, so that’s a little exaggerated. Actually he’s always at his workbench, not just during the holidays.
Having previously made moccasins and done other leather work, Tim Sontag wanted to make a career of it and set about trying to learn how to make custom shoes. As one might expect, there were not many people around who were willing to teach.
Eventually, however, he found an apprenticeship in Akron, Ohio. “I learned about making and repairing shoes and found that I preferred repairing them over making them.” He noted also how difficult it would be to make a living from making and selling shoes. “When shoes are mass produced, it would be difficult to compete with that.”
There were few younger people in business at the time but he did notice that most thriving shoe and leather repair stores were in small towns. So, once he had completed his 9-month apprenticeship Sontag started looking for a place to set up shop. “I wanted to work in a small community,” he said. “I prefer a small town and I knew there was a market for the work.”
In 1982 Sontag opened Xenia Shoe & Leather Repair at 21 E. Main St., right across from the Greene County Court House in Xenia. Not everything was smooth sailing, though. The business end of his work was a learning experience. “My teacher was very skilled at his work and I learned the craftsmanship well, but he didn’t know very much about business.” Eventually, however he did learn and the business thrived.
Today Xenia Shoe & Leather Repair employs 4 full-time and 2 part-time workers. Sontag and his staff of skilled craftsmen repair men’s and women’s shoes and boots
“We take them apart, grind them, glue them, repair what’s needed and then clean and polish them,” Sontag said. “We try to have everything going out look better than it did when it came in.”
In addition to shoes, Sontag can also repair leather jackets and heavy Carhartt apparel, replace and fix zippers, and sew and repair backpacks, canvas bags and other luggage.
The business has done well and Sontag has even expanded it to include a retail store that carries Red Wing boots and shoes, Birkenstock sandals, gloves, belts, specialty insoles, and a variety of leather and shoe care products.
“We are somewhat dependent on people who have quality footwear and other items that are worth repairing,” Sontag said. “Of course people sometimes just want to have something repaired because they love it and want to hang on to it.”
According to Sontag, there is also a level of continuing education to the job. “Shoe construction has changed over the years and we have to keep up,” he said. “Repair materials and cements have changed as well as construction methods.”
The kind of repair done depends on the item and use of the owner. “We can repair insoles, make the shoes fit better, last longer and look better.” Xenia Shoe & Leather Repair can also do custom leather work and specializes in orthotics.
Sontag is a certified pedorthist, which means he knows the biomechanics of how shoes are supposed to fit and what will give the best support and meet the needs of the wearer. “Some problems people have with their feet come from their footwear,” Sontag said. “But, if you’re having a chronic problem where real pain is involved you should see a doctor.”
According to Sontag, only about 8 to 12 percent of people even think to get durable items repaired. “If people went through their closets,” he said, “they would find things that are repairable and worth repairing.” People discard many things because of simple problems like broken zippers or a failing seam.
Besides repair and retail work, Xenia Shoe & Leather Repair can also do custom leather work such as making and repairing belts, horse tack, and specialty items. Xenia Shoe & Leather Repair is open from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday. For more information or to ask about products and services, stop by the shop or call (937) 376-8156.