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One sole at a time: Downtown Lansing store keeps shoe repairing tradition alive

Mark Michaels of Contemporary Shoe Repair
Posted at 3:47 PM, Aug 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-18 22:21:47-04

LANSING, Mich. — We wear shoes for their cool styles and to protect our feet when walking from point A to point B. But, the perfect shoe doesn't last forever. Sometimes they get a little worn out. In downtown Lansing, Contemporary Shoe Repair is the destination to take your shoes when they need a little love.

Since the late 1930s, downtown Lansing has had a shoe repair shop where shoes are torn apart, sanded and even polished.

It's now known as Contemporary Shoe Repair. But in the late 1970s, ownership changed.

“My father bought it. It was known as Knapp's Shoe Repair, and it was in the basement of the Knapp's department store," said owner and main cobbler Mark Michaels. "We repair men's and women's shoes. We also repair luggage, backpacks, briefcases, sports equipment. A lot of general leather work, but we're mainly shoe repair."

Michaels says the store has been in his family for two generations.

"Maybe a year or two after my father bought the business, he moved out of the department store to the corner of Washington and Kalamazoo, and then he moves at another time still on Kalamazoo Street." Michaels said. “Many members of my family over the years have worked here, cousins, even my grandmother, when my father started the business, would be here working with him," Michaels said.

He took over the family business when his father retired 10 years ago. But, he is no stranger to shoe repairs. He's been perfecting his craft since he was a child.

"Probably 9 or 10 learning how learning to shine a shoe, learning a few of the basics other than that. In terms of major repairs, high school age," Michaels said.

The store has made a couple of moves in the downtown area. Even though it now sits on the first floor of the historic Hollister Building, its repair game hasn't changed.

They have been sewing and replacing heels for years.

“I meticulously and carefully take the shoe apart, carefully, making sure to ensure that the structure of the shoe is as intact as possible,” Michaels said.

When his father bought the shop, it came with machines from the 1940s and 50s, and Michaels says his work space and being able to use these machines are an honor.

"It's kind of a privilege. It's kind of cool, like they're still made, but they're not made the same way. And because they're older, a lot of the mechanics of it are basic. So I do most of my own maintenance here." Michael says.

"This is like a second home. It's something I love doing. I love that I can be artistic with it. I can be creative with it," Michaels said. “It feels great. I love the community downtown. We've got a nice community of businesses, downtown residents, employees and various offices down here. You get to know the customers, you see them over and over again, you form sort of a friendship.”

Michaels is happy to carry on his family's legacy and solving all the shoe problems one sole at a time.

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