Connie’s Shoe Repair and Bail Bonds opened its doors in 1911 in historic Church Hill in Richmond, and over 100 years later the cobbler now resides at 110 North 8th Street downtown. The third generation business was opened by Fred Elkin and is now run by Fred’s grandson—Nathan Elkin a man whose passion for his business and customers is apparent to everyone who walks though the door. After shooting our March Short Run Shirting Lookbook at Connie's, we had the chance to sit down with Nathan and ask him a few questions about his life, his business and our mutual love for a great pair of shoes. Q: When did you know you would be working at and eventually running the shop? My wife and I got married in ’69, right before I went into the service, and when I finished my time serving my father offered me a position. My father passed away 14 years ago and I really became the owner about 20 years ago. My father was the one who was extremely successful. I went against the norm, ‘cause normally the third generation- when they take over a business- goes under. Number 1, I’m proud of what I do. And number 2, I do not take myself too seriously, so I have a lot of fun at work. And by doing that, my customers absolutely love coming in because they feel comfortable. Q: Where did your shop get its name? My father was Alfred Connie Elkin and he just picked the name of Connie’s Shoe Repair. And that’s how the name started. Q: What makes a great pair of shoes? You want to look how the shoe is made. You want to look on the inside of the shoe and see if it has a full leather lining. If it has a full leather lining, then you know it has a very strong mid-sole. And then you just have to look at the leather. Basically the key is: you slip it on your foot, if it’s comfortable and you like it, you buy it. . It could be a $29.95 pair of shoes or it could be a $2000 pair of shoes. If it’s not comfortable on your foot, it’s not a good pair of shoes. Q: When should you have the sole replaced? When you can feel the ground if you step on a pebble. If you see a hole in the bottom, if you’re walking in some damp weather and the water goes through the sole and your feet get wet or cold. Trust me, if you have nice footwear, you will know. Q: Is there a shoe that’s truly perfect for all occasions? No. Absolutely positively— no. Every occasion is special. If you’re going to class, if you’re taking your number one girlfriend to the movies, if you’re taking your number two girlfriend out to dinner, no shoe is perfect. The shoe needs to match the outfit. If it matches the outfit, then you have the perfect shoe. Now I’ve got real strong convictions on that. A well-dressed man who goes to all kinds of different functions should have a selection of footwear to wear. But if you are on a budget: black, brown, cordovan, topsiders, snow boots. A well-dressed man should never, in my opinion, wear sneakers to a business meeting. I think they could wear topsiders. But I think the sneakers are wrong. Q: Are there any brands you truly believe in? Day in and day out—Allen Edmonds, Alden, handmade shoes from England, Church, Crockett and Jones. If it’s comfortable on your foot, it’s a really good shoe. That’s what people have to understand. Just because a shoe sells for $500 doesn’t mean it’s a good shoe. And I really stress that. Quality is quality all by itself. Q: What do you like most about your job? I love dealing with the people. I love… I cannot stress enough. When you treat people with respect and you are honest from your heart with your customers, your customers can feel it. When a new customer comes in, I not only introduce myself, I introduce them to Henry, I introduce them to Anthony and I show them the work we do. I want them to feel comfortable with anything that they need to have fixed. I want them to ask me about getting something fixed because if I cannot do it, I will find someone for them who will do it. My job is to make sure that when you walk through the door, you feel comfortable. And my customers love that.
March 13, 2012 — Mel Calabro