He’s a sole man-Merchant makes living from fixing shoes and boots
Allen Nation, owner of Romano’s Shoe Shop in Orange, said his craft is halfway a craft and halfway an art.
“It’s not rocket science, but there’s a method to do it. I’m not an artsy kind of guy, but the craft part is putting on the sole or heel. The art side is making the shoes look as it has never been worked on,” Nation said.
Nation bought the business 26 years ago and he has been repairing shoes and boots for the past 26 years. Romano’s first opened its doors for business in 1915 and it’s one of the oldest continuous businesses in Orange. It has been housed in the current location at 1307 1/2 Green Avenue since 1945. Many customers tell him they attended school across the street from the shop.
He started off by manning the cash register, helping out and watching then-owner, Autrey Beatty, and how he did repairs until there was an opportunity to purchase the business. He also attended shoe repair conferences and conventions to increase his skill and knowledge.
Some of the services offered at the shop include resoling cowboy boots and dress shoes, replacing ladies’ heel tips, men’s heel caps, stretching boots and shoes, shining them, build-ups for orthopedics, repairing and cleaning leather jackets, cleaning and repairing purses and handbags and sewing patches on bikers’ jackets and vests. He also makes cell phone holder out of exotic skins. He doesn’t make shoes or boots because that takes too many hours. Many pairs of work boots also come through the store for repairs. Nation said all jobs have routine duties to them and the most difficult thing he does as a craftsman are the things he does the most often.
“I ask myself, ‘How do I fix this? How do I do this to please the customer?’” he said. “We have good, loyal customers from all over Southeast Texas.”
He cited one example of a truck driver who occasionally passes through town and drops off his shoes to Nation and he mails them back to the customer or vice versa.
Unfortunately for Nation and others like him, however, is that the neighborhood shoe repair shops are fading away.
“There’s not too many left. They’re fading numbers across the U.S. There were four or five repairs shops in Orange alone in its heyday,” he said. “People walk through the door and smell the leather and the polish and it takes them to the way back machine of their youth.”
Nation said many shoes are now made in China and they don’t last very long. Most people think their shoes can’t be repaired and throw them away. He added higher-end shoes are still manufactured in the U.S. but many don’t want to pay the price. Customers get what they pay for.
“When you get your shoes repaired, you’ll get back a better shoe than the one originally purchased,” he said.
Nation admits that the machinery he uses- grinders, brushes, a machine for ladies’ tips, a five-in-one machine, a patching machine and a big, heavy duty leather cutter- is old, but it still works.
“I keep using it. It gets the job done,” he said.
Nation said the craziest repair job he ever did was fixing a lid to a pot. The customer asked him to glue the handle to the top of the pot. Nation, however, discovered there was a screw going into the handle. He put in a new screw for the lid and no glue was required.
He has also repaired straps on baby strollers and lots of baseball gloves. Nation said it’s still humorous to receive calls from people asking to order pizza or pasta because they mistakenly think they have called Romano’s 8.31 Italian Food in Orange.
“We provide a service for a small town. We’re a one-man operation here and I take pride that in everything that passes through here my hands have touched,” Nation said.
Romano’s Shoe Shop is opened form 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. He takes off for lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. He’ll stay in the shop for lunch or come back later if customers call him ahead of time and schedule.