Carrying On The Shoe Repair Craft

Shoe repair shops are not as plentiful as in the past, but Sappington Shoe Repair still does bang up business

Tony Sisson of Sappington Shoe Repair said he often works 80 hours a week to keep up with his customers' needs. Sisson began working part time at the shoe repair shop while attending Lindbergh High School in the late 1970s. Sisson took over the business after the previous owners, John and Claire Doucette, retired. photo by Diana Linsley (click for larger version)
09/11/2009 - A sign in front of Tony Sisson's Sappington Shoe Repair reads, "The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten."

The words serve as a reminder that customers remember the quality of work, not the price tag. That's what business is all about for Sisson -- producing quality work and making customers happy.

"You've got to put the hours in to take care of your customers because they're the ones who pay you," Sisson said. "You have to take care of them. If not, you're in trouble."

Sisson, a Crestwood resident, learned the value of customer service and much more from his predecessors, John and Claire Doucette, who opened Sappington Shoe Repair in 1956.

Shoe repair is putting Tony Sisson's two sons through college. photo by Diana Linsley (click for larger version)
John Doucette, a native of Nova Scotia, Canada, met and eventually married Claire, a Fenton native, while stationed at Scott Air Force Base in Belleville, Ill. Originally located in a building where Bauer Automotive now does business, Sappington Shoe Repair moved to its current location at 11622 Gravois in 1960.

Tony Sisson grew up in South County and, as a 16-year-old Lindbergh High School student, came across an ad for hire at the YMCA. He submitted an application and a week later he was hired by the Doucettes. Sisson said that he did not expect to work there for the rest of his life.

Tony Sisson makes repairs to a pair of sandals at his Sappington Shoe Repair shop at 11622 Gravois Road. photo by Diana Linsley (click for larger version)
"I think they were glad I came along to learn the trade and to keep it going, because I knew I wasn't going to college," Sisson said. "When I graduated high school in 1979, John said, 'Do you want to work full time?' I said 'yeah, might as well.' So I worked full time and it just went on from there."

After learning the shoe repair trade over the course of 11 years, the Doucettes eventually turned the business over to Sisson. He has kept it up with help from his wife, Donna, eldest son, Derek, and long-time employee Mary.

While devotion to his business makes shoe repair seem an easy task, the work can be very strenuous. Thirty one years of repairing shoes and working 80 hours a week has taken a toll on Sisson. His knee aches from standing almost 14 hours each day, and arm bands on both his arms reveal the presence of tendonitis.

Some of the old equipment still used by Sisson to repair shoes. photo by Diana Linsley (click for larger version)
"It mentally drains you, too," Sisson said. "Right now I'm extremely busy with the way the economy is. I've been working seven days a week since last September. I'm tired of it, but it's a job, and it makes for a good living."

Despite everything, he continues to put his customers first. While he's modest about the volume of business he does, the quality of the finished product speaks for itself. Happy customers keep him busy, and refer new customers to his shop. In an age when people tend to throw out shoes once they are in need of repair, Sisson said his business couldn't be better.

"If you're good and you're open you're going to be busy," Sisson said. "If you're putting out good pieces of work and treating your customers with as much respect as possible, then you should be busy."

A collection of buckles for both shoes and belts. photo by Diana Linsley (click for larger version)
Sisson said he knew from a young age that he would be involved in a trade that required working with his hands. And while shoe repair is the path he followed, cars are another major passion.

"If I could make a living working on hot rods, I would switch in a second. But I know I can't because there's not a big call for that," Sisson said. "Not everybody can drop $30,000 to build a vehicle, but everybody wears shoes."

Ray Stalley of Arnold brought his golf shoes to Tony Sisson for some needed stitching. photo by Diana Linsley (click for larger version)
In what little spare time he can find, Sisson is fixing up his grandpa's 1952 Chevy truck. He also loves to fish. There will be more time for cars and fishing once he's retired, but with a son in college and another still to send through college, retirement may not come for a while.

Until then, Sisson continues to do a thriving business, the phone ringing and the door incessantly chiming a testimony that the shoe repair business is not a dying profession.

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