HAMILTON — When you walk into Mac’s Shoe Repair at 63 Willow St., a bell rings letting the cobbler, working at noisy machines out back, know that one of his loyal customers is out front.
After March 31, that bell will no longer ring. Robert McRae, the town’s former fire chief, has decided to close shop after 64 years. He opened the shop in 1950.
“That’s what I’m going to miss, my faithful customers,” said McRae, who is 88. “ ... I am sorry to give it up, but my body just tells me I’ve got to quit.”
Out back, McRae shows off the heavy shoe repair equipment he bought new when he opened. There’s the finishing, sewing and roughing-up machines, the heel wheel, the splitter and others. The machines nail on heels; trim, pound and stitch soles; and polish leather. The cash register is vintage 1950s.
“It’s time,” said son Mike McRae, who lives in Maryland. “His health is starting to be compromised now.”
Mike McRae, 59, knows from experience that shoe repair requires a lot of upper-body strength; he worked at the shop as a teenager. “He has put in a lifetime of achievement and he just needs to back off and enjoy retirement.”
Besides, there is little money in shoe repair nowadays, the elder McRae said. The shop’s heyday was in the 1980s.
“It’s a dying business, I think. I get communications from the national people and they tell how great it is, but I don’t see it that way with the way shoes are made nowadays,” he said.
Shoes are so inexpensive they may not be worth repairing. Many can’t be resoled, he said.
Setting up shop in a small town meant business was slow at first.
“It took a while before I could begin to earn a decent week’s wage,” he said.