WAYLAND, Mich. (WOOD) — In what sometimes seems like a throwaway society, cobbler Alan Baugh has mastered what some considered a dying trade.
“Times have changed. A lot of people think that, that it’s a throw away thing. But if it’s fixable, I’ll fix it,” Baugh said.
Four days a week, you’ll find the 93-year-old doing the job he has loved since his first heel repair when he was 12 years old.
“I could pull a heel off pretty easy. I wasn’t quite accomplished to grind if off, so my dad would do that. As time went on, I learned everything that was involved,” Baugh recalled. “I just made it a point as time went on to do a good job, and people appreciate that.”
Baugh’s grandfather opened the Baugh shoe store and repair shop in downtown Wayland in 1923. His father took over the business a few years later after his grandfather died. Baugh was born into the family business in 1929. As he grew up, he learned the sole grinding, heel pounding, boot polishing skills needed to make something old new again.
“If it’s fixable, I’ll fix it. I’ve got a pair of shoes here that the soles fell off. So many of the shoes are glue processed,” Baugh said, showing off one of the many jobs he tackled recently. “It isn’t anything I went to school for. It’s like doing it, learning to do it, to do it right and make it so it’s acceptable to the customer.”
His people skills are just as impressive. You’ve heard of people giving strangers the shirt off their back; Baugh has given the shoes off his feet.
“There was a few years ago, I had a man that had to have his shoes fixed. He didn’t have a pair of shoes with him, so I lent him my shoes. And I fixed his. He wore my shoes. He came back later and picked his up,” Baugh said.
Customers’ praise for a job done right has meant almost as much as the ring of the cash register for Baugh.
“It makes me feel good that I’ve accomplished something that made people happy,” Baugh said. “That’s a reward to know that people appreciate my good work.”
With the exception of the two years he spent in service to his country, Baugh has worked his craft for the better part of eight decades while he and his wife Lois, who died in 2021, raised their four children. It’s still a family business. Daughter Sherry works the cash register. Son Tim was set to take over until he died unexpectedly in 1988.
“He’d be the boss right now and I’d be part time,” Baugh said.
Instead, Baugh keeps busy.
Customers come from all over, like Teresa Petersen who drove in from Freeport with six pairs of cowboy boots that needed work.
“There’s not many around out there anymore so we’re just tickled to find him,” Petersen remarked as Sherry placed repair tags on the boots.
Even at 93, Alan’s not ready to put down the heel hammer or other tools of the trade, but he knows the time will come when he must step back. With no succession plan, no one ready to step in and take over, Baugh says he’s taking it one day at a time.
“When I’ve got so much to do, I don’t have time to train anybody,” Baugh said. “I’ve just got to wait until the time comes and I’ll make some attempt to find somebody to take it over.”