‘It’s time’: Charlie’s Shoe Repair closes after more than 50 years in Grand Rapids


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) – After more than half a century of shoe repairs, Charlie’s Shoe Repair has closed its doors in downtown Grand Rapids.

The storefront on the ground floor of the McKay Tower rented out Monday, according to Hillary Taatjes Woznick of NAI Wisinski of West Michigan.

“It’s about time,” said repairman and owner Peggy VanHouten, who finished her last pair of shoes about a week ago.

(An October 3, 1969 file photo from the Robinson Collection at the Grand Rapids History Center shows the McKay Tower on Monroe Avenue NW in downtown Grand Rapids.)

For 38 years, VanHouten has repaired 30 to 40 pairs of beloved shoes a week, she estimates. It is nearly 60,000 pairs of shoes delivered in the street thanks to his meticulous care.

VanHouten learned the trade from his former boss and namesake of the store, Charlie.

“The more I learned, the more exciting it was. Next thing I knew was I’ve been here 38 years, ”she told News 8 by phone Tuesday as she cleared the space.

After around 12 years of working together, Charlie retired, making VanHouten a one-woman show in the shoe repair store.

“It seemed like the more I learned, I got busier and busier and busier,” she said.

Before the pandemic, VanHouten said its shelves were stocked with shoes ready to be fixed. Some controls have even been knocked over on the ground. Then the pandemic struck.

“Everything has just stopped. Nobody came downtown… I was closed for about four months, ”she said.

Gradually, orders started to arrive again, but VanHouten said demand was nothing like it was before COVID-19 hit town.

The working of rubber and leather over the decades has also put a strain on VanHouten’s hands. She said her carpal tunnel got worse to the point that she was having trouble grasping some of the items she was using for repairs.

VanHouten said she entered the shoe repair business in hopes of selling it to someone with experience in the trade, but it never happened. Over the years, the self-described shy repairman has said that she has dealt with a lot of friendly clients, but also “people who have really moved me”.

“This business has made me a little stronger all the time,” she said, acknowledging her husband’s support.

VanHouten said she had no specific plans after leaving the store, in addition to continuing to care for her mother, who is 80 years old.

“I’m just going to try to slow down a bit,” she said.

VanHouten says it will be bittersweet to leave the storefront one last time because of all the people she has met there. But his sense of humor remains intact.

“I was happy to be behind some people and save some soles,” she said with a laugh.

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