Changing styles, slow economy wear out Aspen’s Shoe Shop
September 19, 2002
If you’ve been thinking about getting those cowboy boots or dress shoes at the back of your closet fixed but just haven’t gotten around to stopping by The Shoe Shop, you’ve only got a few weeks left.
The Shoe Shop ? a 15-year phenomena of shoe repairs, cowboy boot sales, and, most recently, cell phone and satellite services ? is closing on Oct. 4.
Steve Miller, longtime owner/operator and shoe repairman to the stars, is calling it quits. He said the combination of changing shoe designs, a slow economy and an injury last winter has convinced him it is time for a change.
“I’ve been using my own resources to keep going, to try different things to keep it running,” said Miller, who co-owns the business at the corner of Monarch and Main Street with longtime partner David Stover.
When Stover and Miller opened a store in Aspen in 1987, the town was in the midst of a cowboy boot craze ? a gold rush from Miller and Stover’s perspective ? that would last for years.
The Shoe Shop immediately became the only place in town where people could buy cowboy boots and get them repaired. The store’s size is only a few hundred square feet, but Miller and Stover were able to keep hundreds of pairs of cowboy boots on hand for the flatlanders who wanted to look like mountain folk. In the mid-1990s, however, the cowboy boot boom became a cowboy boot bust. Today, only a few shops in Aspen still sell cowboy boots.
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Miller kept up his work as a repair man and eventually added cell phones and satellite dishes to his small retail selection of belts, shoe polish and brushes.
After less than a year in the communication electronics business, things looked as if they might pick up again at The Shoe Shop, and justify Miller’s commute from Glenwood Springs. But last fall Miller was taken out of work after a car accident that broke his neck. He avoided permanent damage to his spinal cord and paralysis, but spent three months away from work recuperating.
The Shoe Shop/E-Tech Connect was closed for several weeks after Miller’s accident. Until he came back full time, it was staffed only a few days a week by employees of the Glenwood Springs shoe store owned by Stover.
“We weren’t doing that well to begin with,” Miller said this week. “That really pushed it over the edge.”
He has also noticed a continuing decline in the shoe repair business.
“Aspen was kind of a haven ? shoes tended to be nicer here, and people [were] more inclined to get them fixed,” he said.
But these days even high-end shoes are increasingly made with soles of rubber or other materials that aren’t replaceable the way leather heels and soles are.
“If I had more business like this,” he said, holding up two pairs of cowboy boots being picked up by a longtime customer this week, “I might make some money.” The total for new soles and heels was $90, paid in cash.
Miller will continue to work in Aspen until Oct. 4, taking shoes and boots for repair through the last day of business and selling what retail items remain in the store. Afterward, he plans to work part time at Glenwood Springs Shoe Service on Grand Avenue while he figures out what to do next.
E-Tech Connect customers will continue to be served out of the Glenwood store, just up the street from the shoe store.
Any shoe repairs that aren’t finished before the Aspen store closes will be completed in Glenwood Springs; customers can pick up their shoes either in Glenwood or at Mountain Soles in El Jebel, which has a drop-off agreement with Glenwood Springs Shoe Service.
Miller, not known for being especially chirpy or cheerful, said he is really going to miss the people in Aspen.
“This community has been very supportive of me ? through my wife’s battle with breast cancer and my neck injury,” he said. “This is not that easy for me to do.”
[Allyn Harvey’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org]