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Carving A Niche Part II - Shoe Repair Business Flourishes During Recession
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At work in Harveys Shoe Repair, Javier Harvey Melgoza prepares to cut off and replace the leather for a sole on a boot. Hard times in the recession have brought him more business than usual and at this time of year he is repairing many cowboy boots for the Oakdale Rodeo. - photo by John Branch/The Leader

Entering the shoe and boot repair business when he was 14, Javier “Harvey” Melgoza of Harvey’s Shoe Repair in Oakdale has spent almost 40 years practicing the trade and still likes his work.

“I love it. I actually love it. I fell in love before I actually lifted a pair of shoes,” he said.

Melgoza keeps busy, especially in the current Recession when more people are getting their shoes repaired instead of throwing them out and buying new.

The old guy that taught him – he’s 85 now and still in business in San Jose – learned from the Great Depression.

“He said, one, the businesses that survived then were repair businesses since people didn’t have the money  to buy new stuff, household appliances, cars or even shoes; and that two, however far you look ahead, people will still be wearing shoes. They are necessities.”

Melgoza works late hours often until 1 a.m. after having friends open the shop for him each morning and coming in himself about 11 a.m.

“The Recession has been good to me,” he said. “Used to be business slowed down at two times of year, at the end of December and again during the summer vacations. But I haven’t noticed any slowdown during the last six years or so. And while before most of my customers were in their thirties, now they’re often teens who can’t afford to buy new $100 sneakers every six months or so.”

Melgoza does complete shoe and boot repair, footwear for police officers and firefighters, orthopedic shoes, and other leather items like luggage, horse blankets, jackets and even horse saddles and reins.

At this time of year in the ‘Cowboy Capital of the World’ he is doing a lot of work on cowboy boots. The recent weather is helping.

“Cowboys are very hard on their boots,” he said. “They wear them down to holes in the underside. Then it rains, the water comes through and they come in here for repairs.”

Melgoza is an international award winner in shoe repair as his business card proudly announces. He was named the top shoe repairman on the West Coast by the Shoe Service Institute of America in 2004 – out of an estimated 2,500 competitors.

“Guaranteed workmanship” also appears on his business card.

“I make sure every pair of shoes or boots is clean and polished besides repaired when it goes out. It’s like art work. It’s never monotonous. And I like to please my customers,” he said.

Working in both leather and rubber, Melgoza noted leather soles get very slippery when wet so he often recommends tougher rubber soles.

European leather, especially Italian, is smoother and of higher quality than the American equivalent. The cattle in European countries are corraled by stone walls, wooden fences or even hedges, he said, whereas cows in the United States incur small scrapes and cuts in their hides by rubbing up against barbed wire fences.

Next week, look for the final installment of this three-part series on downtown shops that stand the test of time.