Since 1941, Frank Pusavc has made a living repairing shoes at his 7235 Roosevelt Rd. shop. Pusavc’s profession is somewhat of a lost trade, though, and over the last few decades he has seen steady declines in business. But, recently, things have turned around – possibly because of the poor economy, which might be prompting people to have old shoes repaired so new ones don’t have to be bought.
Whatever the case, Pusavc seems indifferent. At 84, he would rather sit and chat with the few folks who stop by his store, than worry about running a lucrative business – if such a thing is even possible, today, in his line of work
The local shoe repairman’s story goes back to the days of the Great Depression when he was in high school and working at a butcher shop to make a little extra money for his family. His father, who immigrated to Forest Park from Austria, was also a shoemaker by trade. When his dad opened the shoe repair store at its present location 70 years ago, the young Pusavc decided to become his father’s apprentice and learn the trade.
“You learn this trade by watching someone,” Pusavc said. “Like a kid driving with his dad, he automatically picks it right up. It’s the same thing in here. If you have the hands to do it, you just learn by watching, not by talking.”
Pusavc has seen a lot of changes in shoes since the 1940s. “Well,” he began, “back then the leather soles were sewn on. Now the soles are made of rubber or plastic, and they are glued on. Now you have to use a glue gun instead of a sewing machine and know what glue to use with different materials. The big thing today is gym shoes.”
Another change is that almost everything was done by hand when he first started. “Back then the calluses on my hands were so tough, that I could put a cigar out on my hand,” Pusavc said with a laugh.
He pointed to a machine for nailing heels to shoes and said, “Now everything is done by machine … everything is automatic. Years ago I would put the nails in my mouth like a tailor with pins so they’d be handy when I was nailing on a heel. I put so many heels on that way that I imagined that I could spit the nails right out into the heels!”
He has also noticed that fashion tends to go in cycles. “You still get a lot of high heels,” he said. “Women like to dress up. You still get the ‘spikers’ which go back, maybe, 25 years. They’re coming back again.”
Just as shoes have evolved over the last 70 years, so too have the processes and approaches to shoe repair. Pusavc said that, about every decade or so, some innovation would come along that he’d have to familiarize himself with. Thus far, he’s managed to stay on top of much of this.
Shoes and equipment aren’t all that’s changed in his lifetime, though – people have, too.
“They’re not sociable. It seems like nobody has the time anymore,” Pusavc said. “They’re busy … goin’ nowhere.”
And with this turn in conversation, Pusavc reveals just why he continues doing what he does, at 84.
“I earn enough to pay the light bill. I own the building. Otherwise I’d be out of here. There’s no big money in this, you know what I mean? I come here six days a week, because I wouldn’t know what to do at home,” he said.
He said that while most of his customers are in a hurry and don’t want to talk, he still has guys who will stop by just to chat “on their way to the tavern.” He said that he keeps the radio or the TV on in the shop “just to keep me company.”
Commenting on the stroke he had about four years ago – one that still causes some problems in his left leg – he said, “Things happen. There’s nothing you can do about it. You never know on things. Here today, gone tomorrow. Life goes on anyway.”