‘It’s time’: Charlie’s Shoe Repair closes after more than 50 years in Grand Rapids

Grand Rapids

In this Dec. 13, 2021 photo, a “for sale” sign hangs in the window of Charlie’s Shoe Repair, located in downtown Grand Rapids’ McKay Tower.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — After more than a half-century of mending shoes, Charlie’s Shoe Repair has closed up shop in downtown Grand Rapids.

The storefront in the lower level of McKay Tower went up for lease Monday, according to Hillary Taatjes Woznick of NAI Wisinski of West Michigan.

“It’s time,” said sole repairer and owner Peggy VanHouten, who finished her final pair of shoes about a week ago.

(An Oct. 3, 1969 archive photo from the Grand Rapids History Center’s Robinson Collection shows McKay Tower on Monroe Avenue NW in downtown Grand Rapids.)

For 38 years, VanHouten fixed 30 to 40 pairs of well-loved shoes a week, she estimates. That’s nearly 60,000 pairs of shoes back on the street through her painstaking care.

VanHouten learned the trade from her former boss and store namesake, Charlie.

“The more I learned, the more exciting it got. The next thing I knew, I’ve been here for 38 years,” she told News 8 by phone Tuesday as she was clearing out the space.

After about 12 years working together, Charlie retired, making VanHouten a one-woman show in the shoe repair store.

“It seemed like the more I learned, I just got busier and busier and busier,” she said.

Before the pandemic, VanHouten said her shelves were packed with shoes ready for repairs. Some orders even spilled onto the floor. Then the pandemic hit.

“Everything just shut down. Nobody was coming downtown… I was closed for like four months,” she said.

Little by little the orders started coming in again, but VanHouten said demand was nothing like before COVID-19 came to town.

Working with rubber and leather over the decades also took a toll on VanHouten’s hands. She said her carpal tunnel worsened to the point that she struggled to grasp some items she used in repairs.

(A photo provided by Hotel District GR via Facebook shows Peggy VanHouten, owner of Charlie’s Shoe Repair in Grand Rapids.)

VanHouten said she came into the shoe repair business hoping to sell it to someone with experience in the trade, but that never happened. Through the years, the self-described shy repair woman said she dealt with many kind customers, but also “people who have really thrown me for a loop.”

“This business all the time has made me a little stronger,” she said, crediting her husband for support.

VanHouten said she has no specific plans after leaving the store besides continuing to care for her mother, who is in her 80s.

“I’m just going to try to slow down a bit,” she said.

VanHouten says it’ll be bittersweet leaving the storefront one final time because of all the people she met there. But her sense of humor remains intact.

“I was glad to heel some people and save some soles,” she said with a laugh.

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