Gavriel Leviev of Fulton Cobbler (1519 Fulton Street) has been on Fulton Street in Bed-Stuy for seventeen years. He has been in his current location near the Kingston-Throop C train stop for the last seven years; before that, he spent ten years across from Restoration Plaza.
The shop offers a full line of repairs to soles, heels, uppers and zippers. He can do modifications, such as adjusting the calf fit of women’s boots. He will even create shoes from scratch if a customer wants them. They can be ready in as little as 2-3 days. He showed us a pair of loafers that he is currently working on as a pet project; the design is a blend of Louis Vuitton and Versace influences.
The shoe repair business has changed drastically in the last few decades. Footwear manufacturing quality has generally gone down as more companies shift their operations to China. This leads to shoes that are of poorer quality, and thus more likely to need repair. However, stores will often offer incentives on the cheaper shoes, such as a free third pair with the purchase of two pairs at regular price. This is especially true of high-volume shoe stores in shopping malls. More shoes at a customer’s disposal means fewer trips to the cobbler. Generational changes also affect the shoe repair business. Young people often wear flip-flops for much of the year, and switch to sneakers only when the weather turns cold. However, as Leviev says, “The shoe repair business is the original green business. That’s one thing the young people like.” In addition to the environmental virtues of repairing shoes, there are economic benefits. Repairs cost just a fraction of the price of quality new shoes: Leviev says that a pair of shoes that will last will cost in the range of $125-175.
Leviev has been surrounded by shoes since he can remember. His father had a shoe business in the Tashkent province of Uzbekistan, where Leviev was born. The family moved to Israel after Uzbekistan declared its independence, and then to the United States when Leviev was 12 years old. Leviev started out in a pizza shop, but his father persuaded him to open a cobbler business after several years. His oldest son is looking to continue the business for another generation: interested in footwear design, he spends a lot of time in the shop learning the craft and the business.
Customers often remain loyal to Fulton Cobbler even after they leave the neighborhood. “One customer moved to Queens,” he told us, “yet she collects her shoes all year long and then comes down to my shop with a garbage bag filled with shoes.”