Shoe doctor Clarke celebrates 20 years in Dundalk
Wednesday, 09 March 2011 11:34

Holabird shop is last repair store in town

by Sara Blumberg

    Clarke’s Express Shoe Repair is the only place in Dundalk where you can go to get your shoes stretched, your zippers repaired and your leather items cleaned.
    It’s also one of  the only independently-owned shoe repair shops still operating in the community, let alone the county.
    Celebrating it’s 20th year, the shop on 6920 Holabird Avenue still operates with a family feel and a neighborly approach.

“I just love the community and the people in it,” said owner James O’Farrell Clarke.
    Clarke’s store isn’t big. The rectangular setup boasts all the makings of  a small workshop.
    As customers walk in, they are welcomed by Clarke, standing behind a wooden counter where a sign with white letters spells out the “shoe shine.”
    “I’m known for giving complimentary shoe shines with sole and heel orders,” he said.
    Posters of shoes adorn the walls of the store, while a variety of antique repair machines fill up the work space.   
    “I defiantly strive  for that old-time feel,” he said.
    It’s a normal Tuesday afternoon for Clarke, who finds that he is either extremely busy or just extremely slow.
    “You never know who is going to come through the door,” he said.
    The store itself has become a landmark of sorts. Before Clarke bought the shop, a shoemaker named Mario “Motts” Marconi   started “Motts Shoe Service” in 1930.
    As the original owner, Marconi operated the shop until 1988, when he retired and sold it to another buyer.
    Clarke bought the store in 1991 after deciding take over the shoe  repair business.
    On most days Clarke is a one-man shop, handling the day to day operations while making repairs.
    One reason he enjoys the work is because he gets a chance to form real relationships with people.
    “Dundalk is the type of community that when someone finds something they like, they will come back. Many of my customers have been coming back for the last 20 years,” he said.     
    Clarke fell into the shoe business while in college.
    After getting hired by the shoe repair chain Mr. Minit, he was trained in shoe repair and became a district manager for the company.
    For 28 years, Clarke has continued to be a “shoe doctor.” He says the recession has been good for his company.
    “The recession has helped service industries like mine, people want to save money wherever they can and I’m all for helping them out with that,” he said.
    For the last few years he has helped a variety of new clients with repairs.
    “Many of the customers are new and have never had their shoes repaired,” he said.
    He added that with more people wanting to go “green,” he has also seen people attempting to keep shoes longer.
    The future appears to bode well for Clarke, who opened a second store in December in Harford County.
    “I originally bought the place as a workshop, but when people got word of what I was doing, they kept asking if I would open the store,” he said.
    The shop is open three days a week. Clarke, who once again bought a closed-down shoe store, even kept the original phone number so it would be accessible for customers.
    As Clarke’s day continues, a man with a bike walks in, checking on the status of his leather boots. While chewing tobacco, he contemplates getting keys made – another service the shop provides.
    Other services the shop incorporates are fixing and cleaning leather goods.
    One key to Clarke’s success has been adaptability.
    With the changing times in shoe production, Clarke has invested in machines to help him keep up with new types of repair.
    At one time there were little shoe repair shops all over the country.
    Now, Clarke says, less than 10 percent still exist.
    Clarke hopes to continue his neighborly feel as he continues his passion for the shoe repair business.