Freeport Journal-Standard Freeport, Illinois Wednesday, October 4, 1972 pg.6

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Freeport Journal-Standard 
Freeport, Illinois Wednesday, October 4, 1972 pg.6 - TO^^ He r s Healed (Or Maybe Heeled) Shoes For...
TO^^ He r s Healed (Or Maybe Heeled) Shoes For Fifty Happy Years By DUNCAN BIRDSELL Journal-Standard City Editor The front door opened to the shoe repair repair shop across from the Adams Avenue Avenue firehouse. "Are you the mayor of the Third Ward?" boomed the incoming voice. Clem Michel slyly glanced up from his stitching machine and grinned. The title would fit. So would a few other handles - check casher, rent collector, collector, stamp seller and raconteur, but above all a genial storekeeper. Next Monday Michel will observe 50 years in the shoe repair trade. All but the first 3% have been spent in that long familiar Third Ward location where Freeport area folks regularly stop in to have their footwear, handbag and zipper ills treated. Service, smiles and social commentary commentary are dished up by 71-year-old Clem. His cronies delight in dropping by to chatter with him and the "can you do it in a hurry" shoe repair customer is rarely disappointed. Michel has long since mastered the knack of carrying on a running dialogue dialogue with whoever is in the shop, amid the clatter of his work, and the background radio, while never missing a stitch or nail. The art of conversation is his forte. Busy Routine Time hums along during a typical afternoon afternoon in the shop. A young man enters with two uneven heeled shoes. "Can you get'em to go by tomorrow night, Clem?" "Will do it, Larry." Hardly had he departed when a woman comes in. "I know you're from up around Orangeville,'•' Orangeville,'•' says Michel, taking her pairs of worn-out heeled shoes and some strap-loosened sandals. "When are you going home?" "When can you have them done?" she replied. "Give me an hour and I'll fix you up," Michel replied. Michel returns to repairing a purse. Minutes later the door opens. "Hi Homer," says Michel glancing up. "What's the trouble?" The stocky middle-aged man pulls off one shoe and displays a tack sticking sticking up through the heel. "That's only one tack. That shouldn't hurt you," grins Michel. "Sit down for a minute and I'll fix that." And so the routine goes. Shoes are left, boots are picked up, a small check is cashed, a small lad comes in and departs departs with a stick of gum. Between everything Michel recounts in shoe repairing and tidbits of trivia. "Don't put a for-sale sign in your car and park it in the street. Clem didnt once and ended up with a $15 fine. "I couldn't believe there was an ordinance ordinance on that until they showed me at the police station. Now you see a dozen cars driving around town with signs in the windows." (For the fat conscious don't eat wieners. wieners. Clem saw an article in a Chicago paper the other day telling how the fat content of franks has gone up from 15 to 26 per cent. His wife kind of likes them, he keeps warning her and I've really got it on her now. (Don't always believe those "No Solicitors" Solicitors" signs on houses. Clem had a shoe repair route for 10 years before World War II, covering Forreston, Shannon and Pearl City. "You know I'd go right up to those houses with signs and they were my best customers." customers." (Clem once won a new Packard in a 1932 Knights of Columbus raffle in Springfield. The old placard on the walls says that. Michel didn't need the car. He had a new Ford, so he unloaded unloaded it on a Springfield car dealer for $1,425. "Before I went down there to get it, a local dealer offered me $1,000 and I said, 'you go to h—."') For Michel, a lifetime Freeport resident, resident, his initiation into his trade was early and not without some later indecision. indecision. "I quit school when I was 15 years old and got a job delivering meat on a bicycle," he recalls. "That lasted through the winter. "Then my dad said, 'You quit school. What are you going to do now?' I said, 'Oh I'll get a job.' Two days later he said, 'Go down and see John Pera. He wants a boy to learn the shoemaker's shoemaker's trade.' " The job turned out to be an apprentice apprentice shoe repairman in Pera's shop under under the old Hill-Garrity drugstore in downtown Freeport where the Woolworth store is now. Michel started out at the modest salary of $5 a week ($1 a day for a 10-hour day). In two years he worked up to $22 a week before before teen-age itchiness led him to quit. Tries Railroad Michel went to work on the Illinois Central to pursue the machinist trade. The senior Michel was a longtime 1C laborer. "Dad asked me how I'd like to be a Clem Michel. .50 Years Of Repairing Shoes -Journal-Standard Photos. machinist. I said, 'All right.' I think back. It was the time a father ran the 'house. Not now. I went down and I told the boss, 'I'm Frank Michel's boy.' Would you catch a kid doing that today?" today?" Almost immediately Michel sensed he was not destined to be a machinist ,but he stuck with it for four years, primarily primarily in deference to his father. But the lure of shoe repairing was strong. "Two years after I went to the railroad, railroad, I found I couldn't stand to be away from leather," Clem remembers. "I put some equipment in the basement basement at my house. St. Francis Hospital had 39 nuns and I did their (shoe) work, besides the neighbors' and guys' at the railroad." Own Shop The big day arrived on Oct. 9, 1922. The Clem Michel shoe repair shop opened up in a 14-by 20-foot building behind a grocery store at the corner of Walnut Ave. and Elk St. "I pretty near Mildred Michel. . Zippers Are Her Style starved the first winter," is how Michel Michel explains it. Maybe the fact that Freeport had nine shoe repair shops then (there are four now) had something something to do with it. Nevertheless, business gradually picked up, and in March 1926, Michel decided with some trepidation to relocate relocate into the Third Ward business block where he is today. The fears proved groundless. Business Business was so good that Michel started his day at 7:30, worked till noon, delivered delivered shoes over the noon hour, put in another five hours on the job in the afternoon afternoon and was back at it for another 4% hours in the evening. The routine went on six days a week for 10 years. Michel did find time in July 1926 to get married, climaxing a three-year courtship of the former Mildred Myers of Baileyville. The budding tradesman and telephone operator had first met at a band concert in Taylor Park. The marriage produced two sons, Jeron (Manny) and William, two daughters, Mary (Mrs. Richard Tappe) and Jane (Mrs. Tillman Smith), and at present 12 grandchildren grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. great-grandchildren. Both sons worked in the shop when young, but their dad's occupation never rubbed off on them. "They wouldn't look at this business," business," says Clem of his two boys, who are now insurance adjusters. "When they dropped a nail I said, 'Pick it up.' They thought I was crazy. They ought to be here now with nails a dollar a pound." For Michel there have been both change and continuity in the shoe repair repair business. "When I started everything was leather, and it didn't wear as good," said Michel. "Composition soles were unknown until 1929, and for the first 15 years the average person couldn't wear them because they burned the feet so badly. "Up to 20 years ago, the shoe repair suppliers furnished some free nails in a little envelope with every box of rubber rubber heels. Then you had to buy them for 10 cents a pound. Now they're 75 cents a pound." Shoe repairing equipment has remained remained rather static through the years, Michael explains. Witness a sole cutter he still uses after 46% years. "Shoe repairing machines are not too much different now," Michel said. "The toilet in your house today whistles whistles and howls and gurgles away like it did in 1900. That's the way with shoe repairing. I was in to the shoe repairing repairing convention the middle of July. In the last dozen years, they have a machine machine to take heels off, but you still have to pull out the nails. There's a machine that drives nails, but you still need to finish them off. It's really nothing nothing to holler about." The zipper end of Michel's business has mushroomed in recent years. Nowadays Mrs. Michel, who is the real pro on zipper work, puts in six hours a day and Clem works an hour on them at the end of his 10-hour day. Zipper Impetus Clem recalls an incident back in the 1950s that got the zipper work rolling. "I was putting in a zipper in a heavy jacket when a girl came in the shop. She said she had a coat at home that needed one. I told her to bring it up. ' Well, I got the zipper in and then my wife saw it. 'You didn't do that right,' she said. I had it in cattywampus. She tore it out, took it home and put it in right. From then on we were really in the business." Maybe the largest single zipper order order came in 1955 when Charlie Bamberg, Bamberg, who ran a bargain store in an old barn north of the city, brought the Michels 50 pairs of surplus Marine Corps pants to convert from buttons to zippers. The job was done for 85 cents per pants, each zipper taking 12 minutes. minutes. The years have wrought changes in the 3rd Ward neighborhood in which Michel became a fixture. Neighborhood Change Gone are.the days when in Clem's words, "nine out of 10 railroad men lived right close." Clem resides at 497 S. Benton Ave. around the corner from his business block. Former business associates along Adams Avenue, such as druggist R. A. Cone, barber Lawrence "Boob" Reasoner Reasoner and butcher Jack Finn, have departed. departed. Only Bump Jones and his lunchroom are still around. There's plenty of life remaining in the shoe repair shop, although Clem readily acknowledges that he's "ready for anybody to come in and buy me out. I'll stay with them till they know the business. I want to get out," he declares. declares. He figures that he has paid his dues, buoyed along by the help of his wife. "I lay most of my success to her," he said. "She's very good with people, chases down to the bank, fixes things . . . she's always on the ball." Clem has comment on most anything. anything. Ask him about the old print on the wall of an elderly cobbler at his bench whose facial features resemble Clem. "I got that when I was about 35 and thought that guy sure looks old," Michel Michel reflects. ^

Clipped from
  1. Freeport Journal-Standard,
  2. 04 Oct 1972, Wed,
  3. Page 6

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  • Freeport Journal-Standard Freeport, Illinois Wednesday, October 4, 1972 pg.6

    angie4osu – 26 Dec 2013

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