As many people struggle with the cost-of-living crisis, there is one industry in B.C. that’s actually doing quite well: Shoe cobblers.
Patrick Nijdam is the fourth-generation owner of Quick Cobbler on West 2nd in Vancouver. He says demand is skyrocketing and he and his staff are run off their feet.
He adds at least 90 per cent of his business right now is dedicated to refurbishing shoes to make them last longer.
“People are less willing to buy brand new shoes these days and I think they’re wanting to have their old pairs, their favourite pairs rebuilt to last them a lot longer,” explained Nijdam.
“I think it’s a sign of the times. Everything is getting more expensive, to be fair repairs included, but I would say that buying new shoes is a lot more pricier and if you already have a pair of shoes that you like it’s worth it for people to repair an older pair that they’ve already had for many years. The price point is a bit better and they’re not throwing away stuff that’s still good.”
He says one trend that has stood out to him is the spike in younger customers coming to him for help.
“Their parents have now put it in their heads … ‘You should consider repairing your shoes now,’ and I’m seeing more people between my age, 25 to 35, coming in now to repair shoes.”
Nijdam adds they’re also seeing customers who are bringing in shoes to be customized or modified to better suit their taste today, which makes up another big part of his business.
“Pre-pandemic, it was slow improvements. We were doing good right up until March 2020 … but COVID, I think, changed the game for a lot of people. For us, at least, a lot of the older cobblers closed down in our area, so we became one of the only cobblers in downtown Vancouver able to do those types of repairs — the bigger tear down and rebuild jobs,” he explained.
Before the pandemic hit, Nijdam says the wait time for shoes was roughly a couple of weeks. Now, people could be waiting as long as a couple of months to pick up their order.
Another factor is the number of mail-in repairs they’re doing, with customers all around B.C., parts of eastern Canada, California, and Washington state sending in multiple pairs that need to be fixed.
“It feels like every day, I’m always trying to catch up,” he admitted. “So, no, I’m barely keeping up. Our name is ‘Quick Cobbler’ … but it’s just impossible for us to keep up and some jobs just take a long time.”
Nijdam points out his shop’s repairs are very seasonal. Right now, they’re dealing with a lot of party shoes for holiday parties, Blundstones, rain boots, and hiking boots, while in the summer, it’s rock-climbing shoes and Birkenstocks.
“A lot of what we do is also work boots, mountaineering boots, and search and rescue boots, and forestry boots, and those boots cost $400 to $800 a pair, but they bought them five to 10 years ago. And we can keep them going another five to 10 years. So, now, they’ve already saved hundreds of dollars each time they do a re-sole.”
Nijdam is considering expanding his operation, adding they are at capacity.
He does have some advice for people, saying you don’t need to just stop at shoes. He notes there are businesses out there that will repair rain jackets, tents, backpacks, and belts.
“That’s totally where people need to start looking for now is repair all your stuff, rather than buying brand new, you don’t need to.”
On Tuesday, Statistics Canada announced the annual inflation rate was unchanged in November, holding steady at 3.1 per cent.
That came as progress on slowing price growth stalled, the agency said.
The November consumer price index report shows higher prices for recreation and clothing put upward pressure on inflation.
-With files from The Canadian Press