Cobbler Shoe Service on Milwaukee’s south side will close this week after 62 years in business.
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Cobbler Shoe Service at 827 W. Oklahoma Ave.[/caption]
Cobbler Peter Gerasopoulos, 83, and his wife Judy, 74, plan to shutter the doors of their shop at 827 W. Oklahoma Ave. on Friday.
Over the past six decades, the business has gained a loyal customer base from across southeastern Wisconsin, Judy said.
“The customers are from all over: Burlington, a few from the outskirts of Chicago, Grafton, Menomonee Falls,” she said. “Peter has a reputation. If he tells someone, ‘Leave it here. I’ll take a look at it,’ it is done. It is fixed.”
Peter opened his cobbler business after immigrating from Greece, where he apprenticed under his father.
“In Greece, every young man takes up a trade; there are bricklayers, cobblers,” Judy said. “Pete’s father was the cobbler. He had 11 men apprentice under him, and Pete was one of them.”
Following the civil war in Greece, leather became scarce and Peter took up unpaid work as a shepherd. He moved to the United States in 1956 with the help of an uncle who lived in Milwaukee. He initially worked at a foundry, where he learned English, and helped his uncle at his shoe repair shop on the side. Less than a year after moving to Milwaukee, Peter opened his own shop.
Over the years, Peter has responded to the changing trends within shoe-making.
“Most people are wearing disposable shoes now,” Judy said. “Not many people are wearing all leather shoes anymore. In the ‘60s, ‘70s and '80s, even children were wearing all leather shoes.”
Judy, who met Peter in 1960, has worked at the shop counter for more than 50 years. She recalls the days when her son, now 51, and daughter, 48, played in playpens in the front of the store.
“There was no babysitter,” she said. “People will still come in today and remark about that: ‘I remember when your kids were in playpens.’”
The business had two other locations before moving to its current Oklahoma Avenue storefront.
Peter and Judy, who have long been tied to the shop’s 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekday hours, decided to retire this year to spend more time with their children and grandchildren.
“To dismantle the store is a lot of work, and I’ve always felt that we walked in together, we leave together,” she said. “This is the year that we decided to do that.”
The couple tried for eight months to sell the business but could not find a buyer who understood the work of shoe repair, Judy said. They eventually found a local shoe company to purchase Peter’s machinery and equipment.
Judy said she and Pete have received many well-wishes and cards from customers and neighbors in recent weeks.
"We love this neighborhood," she said. "Kids on the way to school will wave to us. Now with the holidays, they will come in and we'll give them a piece of candy. We've been a part of this neighborhood. And this has been our best shop because my husband in the back has a garden. In between shoes, he would tend his garden. This neighborhood has been great for us."
The Gerasopouloses are also committed to working until their very last day in business.
"A lady just called and asked if she could bring in four pairs of shoes," Judy said. "I said, 'Definitely bring them in.' The machinery is here. We can still do it."
Peter will be recognized on the Friday with a visit from state Rep. Josh Zepnick and Sen. Tim Carpenter.
“We’ve been blessed with a good family, we’ve been blessed with good customers and we’ve been blessed with good health up until now,” she said. “For my husband to stand for all those hours and for all those years, is a gift. He’s been a very, very caring cobbler. Everything he’s taken in his hands, he was careful and tried to satisfy his customers."
"Whether it's a stitch or someone needs new shoelaces, everything we do is little," she added. "There isn't big profit coming in here. It's about caring for your customer. And my husband truly did."