James White, the roller-skating Floridian behind Polk Street’s new shoe repair shop, has been honing his trade since 1959.
Now, he's opened up his own place in the city. Located at 1339 Polk between Pine and Bush, the simply named Shoe Repair sits at the back of Laundry Locker's Polk St. drop-off center.
For as little as $5, and for all types of shoes, White offers polishes, repairs, resoles, heel replacements, and basically anything else you'd need to keep your footwear in peak condition.
"I do everything," White said. "You name it, and I do it."
His interest in shoe repair started at a young age. As an eight-year-old looking to make some money in Enterprise, Florida—a suburb between Orlando and Daytona—White wandered into the shop of a French immigrant named Clifford Fournier.
“It was a shoe shop,” White recalled. “That blew my mind, because I'd never been in a shoe shop before. He shined my shoes, you know.”
For ten years, White worked closely with the encouraging Frenchman, building the skills and work ethic that have served him ever since. As White remembered it, when he graduated high school, Fournier told him, "James, look, you can do this man. Go get you a job."
“I remember him telling my mom, ‘Tell James not to forget me,’ ” White said. “And that nearly broke my heart.”
After stints in Florida, Portland, and Monterey, White landed a job at Frank’s Shoe Repair on Polk, where he earned a contract with Laundry Locker, a popular service whose customers can pay a bit extra for a shoe cleaning.
He said that from the first moment that he visited the Bay Area, back in 1976, White was filled with an unmistakeable sense of belonging.
“I loved San Francisco,” he told us. “It felt like my home. I never felt like that before.”
This year, Laundry Locker offered White his own space in the back of their Polk St. location. He jumped at the opportunity, but his boss at Frank’s was not pleased.
“He fired me on the spot,” White said. “I gave that man nine years of my life, okay. And I never thought he would be that mad at me.”
He navigated out of that situation with a thick skin, with his other passion, skating, contributing to his calm.
Every Wednesday, White straps down his black leather roller skates and glides onto the rink at The Golden Skate in San Ramon. His skates, outfitted with strobe lights and white leather wings, reflect the care he applies to his customers’ footwear.
White started skating after college, in Portland, as he was getting started as the owner of his first neighborhood shoe shop.
“I wanted to stay in shape,” he said, showing off his first pair of skates as a reminder of those hectic early days. “And being a shoemaker and a roller skater, I made my own skates very fancy.”
White emphasized that his customers can expect the highest quality parts and service. For the chance to prove it, he’s offering half off services for every first-time customer.
"Shoe shops have been declining from the 1950s until today," White reminded us. "I think a shop is better for the neighborhood."
Shoe Repair is open from 8am-4pm, Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays (to accommodate White's skating schedule) and 8am-6pm Tuesdays and Thursdays.
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