Bob's Shoe Repair has been a downtown Rapid City fixture since 1946, but owner Chad Scoular said consumer buying habits, product quality and now the coronavirus have deeply impacted the viability of the business.
"If I make it to the 100 years anniversary, I'll be good," Scoular said. "I try to expand on different things, how I fix things, but we live in a different world now."
Scoular purchased Bob's Shoe Repair at 813 Main St. in 2009 after Bob Wessel Jr. died suddenly of a brain aneurysm.
Wessel grew up working in the shop that his father, Bob Sr., opened in 1946. The younger Wessel took over in 1979, three years after his father died and months after he married his wife, Lori, when they both were just 19 years old.
Bob and Lori worked together in the shop for 30 years, and they celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary 10 days before he died.
Scoular said he worked at Bob's for several years while a business student at National American University. A Colorado native who grew up ranching and competing in rodeos, he was accustomed to working with leather on saddles and chaps. Bob Wessel taught him to fix shoes and the importance of attention to detail and customer service, Scoular said.
Scoular also works on handbags and other leather goods. During an interview on Tuesday, Scoular was repairing a leather holster.
"I absolutely love what I do, but over the last five years, I've seen a huge difference in the footwear industry, but also with handbags. We're not just strictly shoes," Scoular said. "My motto is if it can be riveted, nailed, stitched or glued I'll fix it. But some of this stuff we get now, they can't be fixed."
Scoular said product quality has changed dramatically because consumer buying habits have changed also. In the 1950s, there were over 40,000 repair shops nationwide, Scoular said. Today, that number has dwindled down to less than 2,000.
"Shoes are being made cheaper now. It's a throw-away society, and that is what is putting so many of us out of business," he said. "If we could fix them, it would cost more than a new pair of shoes."
That's one of the reasons why Scoular expanded into other areas of leather repair. Even with the business change over the past five years, he has made adjustments to survive as a small business.
But then the unexpected happened with the outbreak of COVID-19. The impact on small businesses like Scoular's has been dramatic.
"With this whole virus thing going on, I'd be here a week and then be home with my girls for a week because the schools are closed. My wife works, so we would switch schedules," he said.
Closing up the shop for a week at a time has been tough financially, Scoular said. His wife is now able to work from home, so he hopes that he is able to keep the repair shop open more consistently.
"I never thought there would be a day that I would be like I want the phone to ring. It's sad because some days, all I would do is answer the phone and work from 8 o'clock until midnight working on stuff. Now, the phone isn't ringing," Scoular said.
The toll the coronavirus has taken on small businesses being able to survive is palpable, Scoular said.
"You look down the street and there aren't cars parked outside. It makes me wonder, not only for me, but for all of us, whether or not we are going to make it," he said.
Scoular said he did receive financial assistance through the Small Business Administration's Payroll Protection Program and other pandemic programs.
But it's not enough to survive long-term, he said.
"It takes a whole community to support small businesses. Word of mouth is probably the biggest thing in town because advertising can be costly, especially for a small business," Scoular said. "Everyone knows everyone and everyone needs something — whether that be shoe repair or food on the table."
Contact Assistant Managing Editor Nathan Thompson at email@example.com.
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