Judson Bowman began his career at Shoe Repair in 1959 as assistant to former proprietor Zimmie Bradley. He bought the business from Mr. Bradley’s estate in 1996. However, the shoe repair shop at 3219 Washington Boulevard will soon disappear from Arlington’s streetscape. With the ongoing redevelopment of Clarendon and the high cost of doing business, there is little chance that the shop will see another year, and the art of shoe repair will further fade from our cultural consciousness. Like many natural species, the art and craft of shoe repair is on the “endangered list.” Consumer demands for low-cost goods, our throwaway culture and the industry’s hunger for increased profits have effected the survival of the craft.
“See, it all started with the tennis shoes, quite frankly” says Mr. Bowman, “Everybody started wearing them: senior citizens, grandma, the kids—everybody. Back in the day tennis shoes was the thing you wore on the weekends.
“Then they (the manufacturers) figured out why give good quality when they can make something for $3.00 and sell it for $300. . .They could give you a leather top with a tennis shoe bottom and soled with . . . paper. That used to be individual layer of leather like that years ago. Do you get my drift?”
Thus, shoe repair has become increasingly frustrating while the concept of even learning such a trade has become more archaic. Mr. Bowman began his education in shoe repair at the age of 16, learning by example from an experienced tradesman. But, now, he says, “A few people come in here that are teachers and we talk about trades. Years ago they had trades in school. Everybody is not going to be a computer genius. . . . But there’s no trades in schools anymore.” And there are fewer and fewer Zimmie Bradleys and Judson Bowmans to pass on their knowledge.
Copyright 2005 Cynthia Connolly for Arlington Cultural Affairs