Mon-Fri 7:30am - 5:00pm
Sat 9:00am - 2:00pm
CLOSED SATURDAYS IN JULY AND AUGUST
cobbler harks back to tradition of shop
Wedged between Shipley and Orange on
West Ninth Street in Wilmington, Shoe Tech
Inc.’s storefront looks just like any
other that has seen decades of wear from
But the inside has all the character of
a Gatsby-era shop, where a craftsman works
on the wares of the elite to return them
good as new.
In this more modern case, 49-year-old
cobbler Michael Flood has been in business
since 1991. He learned the trade from an
Italian man in New Jersey when he was 16
years old. And the customers are not all
The shop infiltrates the senses in the
best way. It smells of leather, polish,
suede, rubber and machinery. Bottles of
different colored polishes, sprays, laces,
insoles and cleaning supplies nestle
against the left wall. Machines hum loudly
as various sanders and brushes rotate on
Flood stands behind a counter in front
of a machine with a rapidly spinning
horsehair brush. His worn hands, covered
by splotches of black polish, pivot a
man’s dress shoe along the brush for an
pulls away from the machine, picks up a
black bristled rectangular brush with a
wooden handle and seesaws it over the shoe
before spraying on polish for the final
Shoes are stacked on one another on the
floor. Flood laughs and says he’s saved
all that work for me, his apprentice for
an afternoon. Cans of polish, a bar of
black wax and shoe shine spray sit on a
counter facing the door, next to the
machine with the horsehair and cloth
brushes. Farther back, a rotating display
of keys with cartoon characters and sports
teams rests on the counter next to a
bigger display of gold, silver and bronze
keys in all shapes.
On one side of the shop, completed shoe
repair orders fill shelves, each with a
yellow tag saying who they belong to.
Purses hang from the ceiling, freshly
strapped and sewn back together. A
cardboard box of leathers of all colors,
textures and thicknesses rests on the
floor. Straps coil on hooks against the
back wall. A box of handles sits beneath
Flood works on about 50 repairs a day,
100 on some days. Late autumn tends to be
the busiest time of year.
Many customers – about 20 percent to
30 percent of his repair jobs – come in
right off the street. A gentleman donning
a suit and cap walks in, pulls off his
dress shoes and passes them to Flood.
Flood replaces the heel and tip, and
shines the shoes within minutes. The
customer and Flood joke about how metal
tips used to be all the rage – there was
something special about clacking down the
street. The customer pays $4, puts his
shoes back on, and heads out into the
Most of Flood’s customers are
Wilmingtonians who have been coming to him
“I’ve got the greatest
customers,” he says. “Most of the
downtown workers are my customers. Young
and old. Those who have retired still come
back to me. Those who have moved into
different locations outside the city
limits still come back, so they make you
feel very good about that.”
New customers walk in on a daily basis
and ask what he’s capable of fixing. The
answer seems to be: Just about anything.
One customer dropped off his favorite
pair of tan Docksiders. He’s willing to
pay whatever it takes to get new soles but
told Flood to ignore the twin holes on the
top outer parts of the shoes. He likes
“By design, this shoe really is not
reparable,” Flood says as he shows me
the damage. “But I have ways of trying
to make it reparable.”
Before I arrived, Flood cut off the old
sole and gound it flat, leaving the
topmost tan layer. He’s already glued
and stitched a cushiony crepe material to
the sole and set a black rubber layer
aside slathered with glue for a half an
hour. He has me line the black layer up
with the rest of the shoe.
We bring the pair to a machine that
looks like it landed on the Wicked Witch
of the East. Two metal lasts, which Floods
says are like anvils shaped like feet,
stand straight up. Press a button and a
device drops onto the shoes, adding
pressure to ensure the soles stick.
The Docksiders then head to a device
that looks much like a can opener. I grind
the excess black off the edges of the
rubber soles and take them to the next
step – an intimidating sander. The belt
rotates so quickly and our hands work so
closely to it, I’m sure I’ll lose a
nail. Flood’s had his fair share of
nicks on the job, but has his craft down
to such precision I can’t imagine him
Pivoting with fluidity – one of
Flood’s favorite words – is tricky.
The rotating sander tries to pull the shoe
from my grip while I concentrate on
getting an even sole without scratching
the side of the shoe.
Flood insists on patching the holes on
top. The customer’s feet obviously need
the holes there, Flood says, so he roots
through the box of leathers to find a
light brown piece that fits just well
enough so we can patch the hole. We glue
the leather inside and after drying a bit,
we run it through the enormous orange
metal sewing machine. I crank by hand so
the needle goes slowly enough for me to
follow the original seam.
Flood insists the Docksider man will be
pleased with his favorite pair looking
better than he probably imagined.
While Flood handles customers, I tackle
a pile of dress shoes up front – seven
pairs dropped off by a loyal customer who
comes once every few months to have the
plastic heel plates replaced. I pry the
old heel tip off, pull out the nails, sand
down the heel and pop the shoe back on the
Wicked Witch’s metal foot.
Using the nail gun terrifies me, but I
manage to not shoot out my eye as I get
the new plate in place. The task ends in a
full wax, brush and polish for all the
shoes. One pair needs new laces. My hands
now have their own coating of shoe shine,
but nothing compared to Flood’s.
I amuse Flood with how slowly I work,
afraid of sanding my hand or nailing
through the shoe. I over-spray one
Florsheim, leaving a puddle on the heel.
“My favorite job in the business
would be soles and heels, particularly on
men’s shoes,” Flood says.
He can apply more of his craftsmanship
Firefighters from around the country
send their boots to Flood – it’s one
of his specialties. Two parcels from the
West Coast await him on a table among the
completed shoes and purses. The boots cost
several hundred dollars but Flood’s
repairs cost a fraction of that: $70 for a
resole or $35 for patching and stitching,
among other options.
“Shoe repair was declining through
the ’80s and the ’90s because most
people had a disposable mind-set,” he
says. “They would buy inexpensive shoes.
It was cheaper to buy new shoes than it
was to repair them.”
When the recession hit in 2008, more
people were compelled to repair versus
“People come in here every day;
‘Oh, this is a dying art. It’s nice to
see somebody still doing this.’ It’s
dying art because of, again, the
disposable age, the mentality of
people,” he says.
“Most people replace instead of
repair. The other side of the coinis
there’s just not as much dress shoe,
formal shoes, worn today as there was,
say, 30, 40 years ago. Thirty, 40 years
ago, every man, woman and child had their
“Today, most men go to work business
casual. Women just buy different color
pumps, wear them out with a dress and
throw them out and get another pair. And
kids don’t even know what a shoe is.
They wear nothing but sneakers.”
When Flood set up his full-blown shop,
the machinery, tools and inventory cost
him about $100,000. But he buys the tips
and heel plates and all the other little
repair pieces in bulk.
“I’m not a sociable person by
nature,” Flood says. He knows few people
in the neighborhood he’s lived in for
nearly two decades.
“But my customers, my shop, I feel at
home. I feel like a person could come in
here, does come in here, and hopefully
when they leave here, they’ve had a
happy experience. They’ve had a laugh or
two maybe or they just had a good
experience. They didn’t mind spending
their money with me.”
Delaware Cobbler wins national
By E. Janenen Nolan
A 38-year old Middletown man has made a
profitable and interesting business out of
repairing shoes and firefighter boots.
Michael Flood's work for a national
manufacturer of firefighter boots, as well as a
fire restoration company, has helped him find a
niche in the evolving industry of shoe repair.
It has also helped set him apart from several
hundred contestants nominated in Mail Boxes Etc.'s
national Most Intriguing Businesses contest. The
retail postal and business services chain chose
Flood's shop as on of its top 10 picks in
recognition of National Small Business Week
earlier this month.
About 10,000 cobblers were working in the
United States about 15 years ago, compared with
roughly 7,000 today, according to industry
Cobblers had more work when men's shoes were
more expensive, and before women packed their high
heels in briefcases, donning sneakers for the
commute. Well-worn stilettos required frequent
heel replacement, said Tom Costin, chief executive
of Soletech, a Massacusetts-based supplier of
materials for shoe manufacturers and repairers.
"There aren't as many repairable shoes
coming into shops, and that has had a dramatic
impact on the repair business," he said.
But the work is there.
"We're always going to have work because
people are always going to wear shoes," said
Flood, whose Shoe
Tech business is in downtown Wilmington across
from the Ninth Street Book Shop.
He also expanded his repair services, and
sought contracts with a fire restoration firm and
various Wilmington companies.
"Flood branched out, and that is what it
takes for a shoe repairer to do well," said
Costin, a board memeber of Footwear Industries of
America, a trade organization based in Washington,
About eight years ago, Flood began using special
techniques and materials to repair firefighters
boots sold by Ohio-based Total Fire Group, a
national supplier of gear for firefighters.
Today, about 4 percent of Flood's business
comes from work on Pro-Warrington leather
firefighter boots, priced between $100 and $300.
Total Fire refers customers to Flood, who
returns the boots to the customer but bills the
company, said Diane Bible, Total Fire vice
"He's willing to do anything he needs to
do to get the job done," Bible said.
Flood got his start in the shoe repair business
when he was 15 years old. He was hitchhiking to
his job as a dishwasher at an International House
of Pancakes restaurant.
A local businessman, owner of a shoe-repair
shop picked him up and said, "You don't want
to wash dishes. Come work for me," Flood
He worked for the elder cobbler until 1980, when
he decided to try automotive repair and then
installation of shoe-repair machinery. But by
1986, Flood was back to repairing shoes. He worked
as a tech for Fast Feet, which had several
regional shops, including one in Concord Mall.
Flood worked at the mall and other company-owned
sites until approaching Fast Feet's owner about
buying the shop on Market Street Mall in
By 1991, Flood and his wife, Tina, were business
owners. About five years ago, they moved their
shop to Ninth Street.
Shoe Tech's annual sales are about $140,000, Flood
said, adding that he began making a profit about
four years ago. The average cost to repair a
woman's shoe is between $5 and $7. Men's shoes
cost about $40 to fix, depending on the repairs,
Flood said. And he charges between $10 (for simple
repairs) and $50 (for new soles) to repair the
firefighter boots, he said.
With his experience, Flood can be considered a
shoe-repair expert. But he doesn't really like to
be called a cobbler.
"That's the old-timers," he said.
"When I hear cobbler, I think of a Norman