Where do you take your everyday shoes and boots and your special, expensive ones to be repaired, polished, resoled and renewed? Who do you trust? If it’s not Ignacio Benavides, 33 years at the “wrong” end of Main Street, you’ve been missing out. On more than just great shoe care.
Ignacio goes by Alex, for Alejandro, his middle name that he says he dropped because “Ignacio Alejandro Benevides Corona is too long to sign on a check.” When I asked him if he chose Alex because gringos could pronounce it a lot easier than Ignacio, he smiled slightly and said yeah.
Ignacio is one of a dying breed, a craftsman carrying on a family tradition who takes great pride in his work, and asks a very reasonable price. (His father, in his 80s, retired only last year, and his four uncles were all shoemakers.)
My family’s been going to Ignacio since a friend told us about him 20 years ago. Ever since, we’ve worried that he charges too little. We’ve even spoken to him about it occasionally. You’re on Main Street, it’s gentrifying, rents are skyrocketing and we don’t want to lose you.
Four or five years ago a competitor opened up a few blocks down. Has that hurt him? “No,” Ignacio says with a grin. “Sometimes I even send people down there, if they don’t like my prices or they think I can’t do it. They usually come right back.”
He started out in Santa Monica on Pico Boulevard, just east of Santa Monica High School, taking over from a shoemaker who, he found out too late, had lost all his business. His rent in the ‘70s was $150 a month, doubling by the time the building was sold in late 1980 and he was forced to move.
He found his present location, just south of Pico, in December, and even though his rent jumped to $900 a month, he thought it was a good place to be. It had been an upholstery shop, and way before that (1921-23) Nordskog Records, the only place in L.A. you could buy recordings by black artists, and the first label to record a black New Orleans big band, that of the legendary Kid Ory. Ignacio knows this only recently, because a customer brought in a newspaper clipping, which he proudly framed but doesn’t yet have on the wall.
Ignacio’s customers do things like that for him, because he’s such a likable guy, and you understand pretty quickly what a gem of an anachronism he is. In the competitive small business arena of Santa Monica, and this tightening economy, there he is, still on Main Street, with customers he’s had for decades and a shock of really thick, wavy gray hair that makes every man jealous. Although married 45 years, Ignacio clearly endures as a ladies’ man. “I’m ugly, and now I’m old, but the ladies still come in and make a fuss.” It’s that hair.
His shop has provided for a family of four sons, none of whom wanted to go into the business, even though he’d bring them here from Montebello on Saturdays and in the summer and let them try a few simple jobs to get a taste for it. “When I die,” Ignacio notes matter-of-factly, “hasta la vista the business.”
He would reward the boys with a fishing expedition to the Santa Monica Pier at the end of the day. “Mackerel, bonita, sometimes a small shark. You have to be careful when you step on them, on the pier, because while you watch out for the teeth, the tail comes around like a razor!”
When he was a young boy in Michoacan, he’d hunt rabbits for food, with a slingshot he carved himself. He showed me, folding and cutting a piece of paper, how he would make cool kites that looked like they had flapping wings, and sell them to younger kids for 20 cents.
You learn all sorts of interesting things at Alex’s Shoe Repair. “We would catch lobsters too, but they don’t bite your hook. You have to have three hooks and a weight” — he grabs a pencil and draws a picture — “and then you have to be real careful the way you pull them out … ,” and he proceeds to give a show and tell.
Here’s what else you should know about Ignacio and his magic shoe shop.
The place looks like a bomb hit it. There are horseshoes nailed above the door, dusty dream catchers in the window, sets of small rubber cartoon figurines and, oh, about a million more tchotchkes, fighting for space with 2 million pieces of leather and such. He’s either doing landmark business or a lot of people forget to pick their stuff up. Both, probably. And clearly, Ignacio has a hard time throwing anything out.
He always stands by his work. On the rare occasions when it doesn’t seem quite right to you, he makes it right, usually adjusting on the spot until you’re happy.
Don’t mind the person who seems to be hanging out there. I can’t figure out if Ignacio has a kind heart for someone down on their luck who would love to sit in a chair for a few minutes, or if, as he sometimes tells the stories, the ones he kicks out come back to break his windows and slash his tires. Last time I was in there a friendly, normal-looking older guy was picking some nice guitar — and also laughing at nothing, often. Made me think of Syd Barrett, Pink Floyd’s crazy diamond institutionalized founder.
Call first. If you just come by when Ignacio told you your belt would be ready, good luck. I don’t sweat it; if I don’t get my boots that day I know I’ll at least get a good story. And always, always, save your ticket.
Music at the mall
I left an excellent performance at the tiny Raw Star Café on Pico last Saturday to walk over to Santa Monica Place to catch something that sounded interesting. Peter Asher, the legendary half of British Invasion duo Peter & Gordon (died 2009) and mega-successful producer/manager for James Taylor, Linda Ronstadt, and too many to mention, was anchoring a show by a band of old Brit rockers, led by a former Moody Blue and a former Holly, who promised to perform the Beatles “Abbey Road” album “in its entirety.”
They did, in two parts, quite credibly, but there was so much more to this concert. It was like a showcase of iconic ‘60s English rock, and if the promoters had been more informative I think more people would’ve turned out, though there was a sizable crowd, and many got a nice view from the second and third level railings.
The many anecdotes, especially from Asher’s Apple days in London, were priceless. The excuse was Brit Week, but I say more please, spring, summer and fall. Another great place for live music, the center plaza of Santa Monica Place.
All that good music, within walking distance.
Charles Andrews has lived in Santa Monica for 27 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.