Too much business, too little help overwhelms Proctor cobbler

Lucy Grzeszczuk walks up to Proctor Shoe Repair to inquire about her shoes. She said she did not care if they were unfinished, and simply wanted her footwear back. “They are expensive shoes,” she said.
Lucy Grzeszczuk walks up to Proctor Shoe Repair to inquire about her shoes. She said she did not care if they were unfinished, and simply wanted her footwear back. “They are expensive shoes,” she said. Staff photographer

From time to time, customers gather outside Proctor Shoe Repair with a mission: to retrieve the shoes, handbags and leather goods they’ve entrusted tothe longtime business for repair.

But many have found the door locked; no one answers their knocks. The phone numbers posted on the door lead to voice mailboxes already overfilled.

“My boss has been trying to get back the $400 pair of boots she brought in there a year ago without success,” said Marissa Jameson, manager of a neighboring clothing shop, Envy. Jameson is also secretary of the Proctor Business Association.

Jeff Turner, owner of Turner Furniture and Upholstery next door, said frustrated customers sometimes start cussing and yelling when they can’t get any response,” he said. “I have to go over there and calm them down.”

A sign posted on shop’s front door says the owner is taking time off to catch up with the backlog of business.

Bentley Henry, who bought the 41-year-old business two years ago, said he’s working overtime to get the backlog reduced, but he can’t keep up with volume.

He hasn’t replied to phone messages, he said, because his time is better spent repairing shoes.

“In the time it takes me to listen to messages,” he said. “I could repair 10 pair of shoes. I have enough work to do. I'm backed up six weeks’ worth of work.”

The shop’s overload of work apparently is not a new problem.

The Better Business Bureau of Alaska, Oregon and Western Washington, noted a year ago on its website that the store had significant issues.

“On October 29, 2014, BBB recognized a pattern of complaints from consumers regarding service and customer service issues. Consumers allege Proctor Shoe Repair fails to complete services and fails to honor the promised completion date. Consumers further allege the company fails to respond to their phone calls, and the storefront is often closed during posted business hours,” the bureau said.

The bureau gave Proctor Shoe Repair an “F” rating based on 10 customer complaints.

Henry said his dilemma stems from a lack of skilled cobblers. When he bought the business, the experienced workers left. He said he’s advertised in multiple publications and online for qualified shoe repair people, but he has yet to find one who meets his standards.

The shop has a reputation for good quality work — so much so that Nordstrom refers its customers to the shop for shoe repairs and adjustments.

“If you know a good cobbler, let me know,” he said Monday. “I’ll hire him.”

Karen Bennett of Ardesson’s Shoe Repair in Lakewood, said the shortage of knowledgeable workers is an industry-wide issue.

“He’s overwhelmed because he doesn’t have any workers. I just hope he gets back on his feet,” she said.

Henry’s neighbor, Turner, said he’s sympathetic to the cobbler’s situation because he himself has seen vocational schools end programs to train workers in manual skills like upholstery in favor of high-tech subjects.

“It’s a sad situation,” he said. “There is a demand out there, but there is no one being trained to handle it.”

Henry says he’s working long hours to reduce the backlog. His plan to dig himself out of the mountain of unfinished business calls for working overtime to get the repairs made. When the jobs are done, he said, he is calling customers and arranging with them for a time to pick up their shoes.

“I haven’t forgotten my customers,” he said. “I’m working the best I can to get the work finished.”

David Quinlan, Better Business Bureau marketing director, said there are few good options for consumers who’ve paid for their shoes to be repaired but haven’t received their goods back.

“You could take the business to small claims court, but that’s a lot of work for a small reward,” he said.

“I would encourage people who have problems to continue to file complaints with us or with the consumer protection division of the attorney general’s office,” he said.

“That might serve as a warning for others not to get caught up in the same situation,” he said.

John Gillie: 253-597-8663