OCEAN PARK BLVD — While the recession has taken a toll on merchants across the city, business has curiously picked up at Alfred Medina’s small shop.
Little has changed at Maya Shoe Repair where Medina continues on with work as usual, fixing soles and broken heels, and trying to make the customers’ footwear appear like brand new, just as he has for the past 39 years.
Yet in a time when nearly every commercial sector is feeling the economic pain, from retailers to auto dealerships to hotels, the downturn has somehow managed to be good to Medina’s business. He has experienced a 30 percent increase in orders to be specific.
“I think it’s because the new shoes can be expensive,” Medina said recently. “Good shoes are at least $250 to $300.”
It’s a story shared by more than one shoe repair shop and even tailors across the city, finding that when the times get tough, many will bring out the old before adding the new.
Elias Custom Tailor on 11th Street has noticed a similar trend over the past few months, seeing customers bringing in fewer new and more aged suits and dresses.
“Usually they say they are not shopping and they are bringing in their old stuff and going into the closet instead of buying new ones,” said Jack Gagossian, the manager of the 35-year-old business.
Some businesses are also looking to celebrate their good fortune with the community.
Boris Yukthman, who owns Classic Tailors on Ocean Park Boulevard, recently started a promotion in which he offers free alterations for children’s clothing.
The tailor, who has owned his business for 25 years, said that he too has seen more customers bringing in old clothes to fix.
The idea for the promotion came after Yukthman learned of Denny’s free Grand Slam breakfast giveaway last month.
“You do something for so many years … that you have to give something back,” he said. “It’s difficult times definitely and a lot of parents can’t afford to pay for alterations for kids.”
Robert Goli, whose family has run Buster’s Shoe Repair for the past 20 years, said that there has been an increase in business the past few months, but points out that winter is typically the strongest season for the store.
“Some people just can’t afford brand new shoes,” Goli said.
The business has been flourishing since reopening in a mixed-use building on Main Street last summer. The 78-year-old store was located at the Nu Wilshire Theater for several decades until it was evicted in 2007 by a building owner who aims to convert the landmarked building into upscale retail spaces.
"The people here appreciate us,” Samai Goli, the matriarch of the family, said.
Not all stores have experienced the same good outcome from the recession.
Mike Gamburian, who owns Mike’s Shoe Repair on Wilshire Boulevard, said that he believes consumers are just scared to spend money, even to fix their footwear.
“Before we had people bringing in five or six pairs, now they’re bringing in one or two pairs,” he said.
Shoe retailers are experiencing varying levels of success depending on the geographic location, some seeing double digit increases in February, said Ed Habre, the board chairman for the National Shoe Retailer Association, a trade organization.
Shoe storeowners in California are reporting challenging times, he said.
While repair might be a growing option, full restoration isn’t possible for most shoes, he said.
Habre said that shoes whose leather soles are replaceable actually make up a small part of the footwear market these days.
“People may wish to repair than replace, but in many cases, especially with shoes that are moderate grade, they are not to be repaired to the point where they become like new again,” Habre said.