Other People‘s Shoes

Other People‘s Shoes

When he was 14 and growing up in Ecuador, Fausto Guamantri’s father taught him the family business of cordwaining—making leather shoes by hand. “After that, repairing shoes is simple,” Guamantri says from the storefront of Cristhian Shoe Repair on Whitney Avenue. When he first came to the United States, he got his start in Manhattan, at a shoe repair store on 59th between Park and Madison, a place that’s still near to his heart, and which he visits often.

His own business opened in 2009 in Bethel, followed by a second location in Southbury. The New Haven shop is the Guamantri family’s third. Along with the fresh location, there’s a fresh name as well. The business used to go by Shoe Service Plaza, until a new employee started working part-time: the youngest of Fausto’s three sons, Cristhian—pronounced like “Christian”—who, at 13, is beginning to learn the ropes and laces.

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“It’s awesome,” Cristhian says from behind the counter, holding a pair of shiny black dress shoes. “It feels good to be acknowledged.” The shoes’ owner marvels over the salvaged soles. “I thought these were goners,” he says.

Fausto says that most modern shoes have quality uppers—often leather and suede—but the manufacturers tend to skip on the most essential but least visible components, like the soles and the binding. “The bottoms are always plastic,” he says. “And so many shoes come to us with only glue holding them together.” To prove the point, Cristhian shows me a discarded sole covered in dried gobs of thick yellow glue. Behind the counter, Cristhian and Fausto join up with Elizabeth, Fausto’s wife, to show me the machines that help them rescue beat-up pairs.

Since the New Haven location was recently opened, they don’t yet have the full set-up of their 10-year-old Bethel store, but they’re fully equipped to deal with the basic problems, as well as emergencies like the one that walked in that morning—a pair of pumps that lost a heel en route to work.

There’s a machine the size of a VW Bug outfitted with spinning cylinders of sandpaper, ranging from fine grain to abrasive, where rubber heels are sanded to the correct shape and size. Fluffy rolling brushes polish leather shoes, an outsized sewing machine stitches seams that have only known glue and a medieval-looking vise presses different layers of leather and rubber together to make a strong sole.

Successes stand on a shelf, waiting for their owners and ready to hit the pavement again. A pair of Louis Vuitton heels, about to be thrown away, now gleam like new. Suede flats are brushed free of stains. A sporty pair of oxfords is refitted with new bottoms that Fausto expects to last for three years.

For those shoes that only need a sprucing, the shop also has two shoe-shine stations by the front window, where a pair of beleaguered kicks can be fixed up in five minutes. The Guamantris repair purses and other leather goods, and sell umbrellas and canes as well. But for Fausto, there’s one service he still prefers to all the others: shoemaking. “I love it,” he says. “Making shoes is my hobby.” Even though Cristhian mostly does repair and restoration, there’s still the odd customer who comes in looking for something crafted from the sole up, and Fausto says he charges between $200 and $300 dollars for a custom pair.

The thrill of the work, he says, is in the mastery of the details. “I love it because I know exactly what I’m doing, and I love making customers happy, because then I’m happy too.”

Cristhian Shoe Repair
2 Whitney Ave 103B, New Haven (map)
Mon 10am-5pm, Tue-Fri 8am-5pm, Sat 9am-1pm
(203) 553-2700
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Written and photographed by Sorrel Westbrook.

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