Yesterday I drove from Palm Springs to Los Angeles and listened to the new issue of the New Yorker on Audm. The entire issue is comprised of just one 30,000 word story called The Plague Year by Lawrence Wright. It’s one of the few single story issues in the 95 year history of the magazine. (If you are wondering, listening to that story takes 2 hours and 52 minutes at 1.25x.) One of the things that I was thinking about while listening was how the economy reacted to the pandemic and what the stock market has done. Specifically it made me think about Raul Ojeda and his company Willie’s Shoe Service here in L.A. That’s a big jump I know. Let me explain.
I know the pandemic has affected a lot of people in different ways. I never want to talk about this stuff and not acknowledge that for some people this has been hell. My heart goes out to those people, it truly does. Certain small companies—restaurants, hospitality, retailers and service businesses— have been under extreme pressure. Some shops have used this as an opportunity to evolve and make positive changes that will help transition the business into something more forward-looking. Many traditional services Willie’s are going to have a hard time evolving. It’s not like they can just pivot to online.
The patterns of our lives have changed in 2020 and a lot of us have just forgotten about places like Willie’s. It’s not intentional, we just aren’t doing the same things, or going to the same places or wearing the same clothes as we used to. Because of all of that, people just aren’t repairing their shoes right now and it’s been rough for Raul. I know this because he told me so. I got to know Raul through my friend Joey Benaron who is one of the West Coast reps for Red Wing. When I moved to L.A. I started to take shoes to Willie’s to be repaired and loved the quality work and the service. I liked Raul’s story and I would be sad if he couldn’t make it through all of this.
Raul started out shining shoes for office workers in Century City. Eventually his business grew and his customers started asking him to help with repairs. That led him to stumble upon the shop Willie’s Shoe Service which has been repairing shoes in Hollywood since 1956. Raul convinced Willie’s founder and original owner Willebaldo “Willie” Rivera to let him apprentice making and repairing shoes. This led Ojeda to buy Willie’s in 2007 and he hasn’t looked back. More than just a shoe repair shop, Raul makes his own footwear and also does custom work for film and television projects. The LA Times wrote a nice story about him in 2012. Willie’s is the type of place that I want to exist and Raul is the type of guy I want to try and help.
My thought going into the new year is that maybe instead of buying something new I could put more life into something I already own? Getting a pair of shoes back from the repair shop is one of the great satisfactions in the world. That experience far exceeds the joy of a new purchase. So that’s what I am going to try and do.
I have shoes that could use a re-sole. What could be a better time to do that than now? I’m going to drop them at Willie’s and when I am ready to wear them again, they are going to be ready for me.
If there’s a shoe repair shop near you maybe you should have something recrafted. If you live in SoCal, send something to Willie’s and they will take care of you. It’s not the most important thing on earth right now, but it will make a difference to guys like Raul. It’s also good for your shoes, your feet and your community. Willie’s Shoe Service 248 N. Western Avenue Los Angeles, CA 90004 ・(323) 463-5011
Thanks for shedding the light on these types of businesses. Amazon will never offer dry cleaning, shoe repair, hands-on tailoring or anything else with a human.
This is a great shout, Michael. I resolved for 2020 not to buy any more clothes or shoes, but a re-soled pair back from North 11th Shoe Repair in Williamsburg hits the same as a new pair, but better. I'm going Monday with some red brick McNairy wingtips that need new heels, and some Oak Street crepe loafers that need a full resole.