Walt Grace loves working with his hands. He loves to serve his customers. He has been in business in Placerville for 40 years.
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Repairing shoes is not a skill learned in school or an apprentice program. When Grace was a teenager growing up in Sacramento, his father bought a shoe repair business. The previous owner stayed to teach Grace’s father the trade. Grace worked in the shop after school and learned the business from his father.
His first shop was in Folsom, but he and wife, Lori, wanted to raise a family in Placerville. In 1973, he opened a shoe repair shop on Main Street next to the Empire Theater. Placerville was a small town then, he said. “I knew 80 percent of my customers.” He was there for 20 years.
“Placerville became touristy. Downtown parking became metered. My customers couldn’t find parking near the shop. It was killing my business,” he said. Mayor Carl Borelli was able to arrange a 20-minute green zone in front of his shop, which helped.
Grace started looking for a new space, but he didn’t want to leave his customers in Placerville or move his family. He found a suitable building on the west end of Main Street, near the intersection of Spring Street (Highway 49) and Highway 50. It had been a Frosty’s-type restaurant. It had off-street parking and windows on three sides. He moved there in 1992 and business picked back up.
His service area ranges from Pollock Pines to Cameron Park. This kind of business depends on repeat customers, he said. “I‘m a stickler about providing two-day service.” That means if he has to work extra hours to make repairs for all his customers, he will have the work ready on time.
Some shoe repair shops also sell boots. “I’m not a salesman. I’m a repairman,” said Grace. He does have shoe and boot dyes, salt stain remover, shoe and sneaker sweetener and other footwear products for purchase for his customers’ convenience.
Grace will repair almost anything that needs sewing or nailing. In his shop, he had riding half chaps, children’s chaps, backpacks, a briefcase, purses, and a spotting scope cover. “When the fruit shed was in town, I fixed the packing bags,” he said. “For a sheep and goat rancher, I helped manufacture a goat mating harness.”
He specializes in cowboy and work boots, orthopedic work, and show and boot dying.
“People love their boots,” he said. Whether they are cowboy boots, work boots or women’s dress boots, people do not want to give them up. “Even when I tell them their money would be better spent to buy new boots, they say, ‘Fix them.’”
Grace is efficient. He uses an assembly line procedure on his specialized machines. For example, all boots and shoes that need heel work will be lined up on one machine, then move to the next.
The cutter can cut straight or angles. Jackstands hold shoes or boots upside down firmly so Grace can work on the bottoms. The men’s sole stretcher has 900 moving parts. Grace has two sewing machines, one for large soles and one for fine sewing. He has two automatic nailers, one for men’s footwear and one for women’s. The finisher grinds, trims, fine sands and polishes.
Grace said,“ It’s a good business. I work with my hands. I am self-employed. The customers are my boss. I was able to raise four children here. I am proud to be in town for 40 years.”
Grace said his business is for sale. “Lori works at El Dorado Irrigation District and will retire in one and a-half years. We want to travel in our RV,” he said.
Walt Grace Shoe Repair is open from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, and Saturday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
For more information, call 530-622-0566.