From the corner of a tiny shop in middle America, shoe cobbler and second-generation business owner John A. Wells offers commentary on everything from grandchildren, to marketing, to inventory tracking. The conversation flows easily, even as his hands are engaged in the tedious work of replacing a jacket zipper.
“This isn’t our regular work. We aren’t really set up for things like this, which is why they take so much time,” Wells comments, though his hands never break from the work.
The smell of ground leather and strong adhesives fill the air and Wells transitions to discussing the bread-and-butter of the business he took over from his father.
“Now those,” he says indicating three pairs of cowboy boots on a metal rack overhead, “those we can turn over in no time. We have the setup for that.”
When asked why he continues to take the irregular work, Wells answers without pause: there is nowhere else people can go.
It’s a simple philosophy that has kept Like New Shoe Repair in business since 1982. Slow transformations in the business structure allowed Like New to stay relevant to the needs of the customers being served. Though presently, a shoe repair shop, the business has previously served as a shoe store as well as a western-boot supplier to flea markets in the greater St. Louis metropolitan area.
Wells took over operations in mid-2017. At the time, his focus was to preserve a family legacy and help his now-retired father. In time however, the business became his, developing a personality and target clientele unique to the newest generation.
“How long have you been doing this,” a pleased customer asked early in the work day.
“On and off for my whole life,” Wells responded.
“I hate to say it, but you’re even better than your dad,” the customer said before heading out.
A reserved-but-pleased smile transforms Wells' face into a picture of pride for just a moment before he turns his attention back to his workbench and the jacket.