George will be the first to tell you that he tries hard not to work hard. Or at least these days. Cleverly disguised as a cobbler's workshop, Park Street Shoe Repair is more of a clubhouse for his charming friends and adoring customers than what the neon sign implies. But leather work didn't always come second to socializing at 609 S. Park.
I met George for the first time through a desperate attempt to get my sandals patched just hours before I left for Nicaragua. "I can fix anything but a broken heart," he said when I walked in. "When do you need it done by?... You need it right now don't you?" He fixed them on the spot, but like most customers, it's not the speedy service that keeps me coming back. It's more that even though I feel like I'm crashing a fellas poker night when I walk in the door, there's enough witty banter and crows feet in the room to make anyone feel at home.
The shop takes me back to Harland's Citgo station in Mt. Vernon where I used to get bottles of Ting as an eight year old kid. My Grandparents lived nearby and the garage had it's own version of this scene as I'm sure service stations around the country did. Instead of shoe polish it smelled like motor oil but the vibe was the same, a conduit to the past where the same folks do the same thing in the same space for decades. It's just refreshing to find a corner of the city that feels protected from constant change. That said, I got a different answer to my plea for shoe help when I stopped in last..
"Jentri, I'll tell you what you can do with that pair. Walk out the door. Take a right and walk two blocks down to the lake. Throw them in. Leave them there."