Shoe repair business offers career opportunity for ex-offenders


Pablo Martinez at work in Carlos Shoe Repair Shop in Martinez, Calif.

Those looking for a job doing something that improves the environment, helps people save money and won’t be outsourced to India might want to consider learning how to repair shoes.

Particularly in these recessionary times when people want to recycle and reuse, the shoe repair business is booming, and there seems to be a lot of opportunities available. 

Learning to fix shoes, however, is a true skilled trade and takes months of training, either as an apprentice or as a student at one of two recently created cobbler schools – one in the San Francisco Bay Area and the other in Denver.

Although it takes effort, there are jobs for those who learn. “I get calls from all over looking for people who can do this. We had a call from a St. Louis shop that was looking for someone and wanted to pay $36,000 per year plus benefits,” says Tom Rhine, who created Rhine’s Cobbler School in Denver to teach his trade.

His school is a 10-month program, but students can take smaller segments if they just want to learn one aspect. He teaches how to use the tools, nails, adhesives and equipment; how to repair rips and replace soles and zippers. He also teaches sales skills and how to run the business –  just about everything one would need to know to operate a shop like his. For the entire program he charges $5,000.

In Martinez, Calif., about 35 miles northeast of San Francisco, Pablo Martinez is creating the Carlos Cobbler School. He says he sees a real need for more people versed in shoe repair and knows of at least 20 shops in the Bay Area that are looking for employees.

Martinez is currently setting up the classes, which will include a shoemaking and sandal making class, as well as instruction in how to repair shoes. He’s working on a schedule for the classes, which are expected to start this spring but hasn’t decided how much he will charge yet.

In the meantime, he also has apprenticeships that require a seven-month commitment in which he will teach two apprentices at a time the trade without charge. 

For those with no funds or who don’t want to relocated to Denver or the San Francisco Bay Area, another option is to find a cobbler who wants to take on an apprentice. The Shoe Service Institute of America, the organization for people who repair shoes, suggests doing this.

All SSIA member wholesalers – companies that sell supplies to shoe repair shops – know who might be close to retiring or who might want to take on an apprentice. These companies are not everywhere, but many of them do regional or national business. A list can be found at

And once trained, you may either stay and work for the place that offered you an apprenticeship, find a job with one of the owner’s contacts or start to think about saving up, or finding a partner, to start your own shoe repair shop. But that will cost somewhere between $40,000 and $75,000, depending on whether you buy new or used machinery. Or maybe, if the person you’re apprenticing for is ready to retire, he will turn the business over to you and let you pay him from your earnings. One repair shop owner said a shoe repair business could make up to $100,000 per year.

For more information on the Rhine Cobbler School visit or contact them by phone at 303-832-6345. 

Carlos Cobbler School will soon have a website. In the meantime, you can contact him at 925-228-6232.


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