THUNDER BAY -- Entering Martin Sugg’s shoe repair store is like stepping back in time. Meticulously restored old furniture, a fully functional old-school pay phone and antique cash register evoke an era when visiting a cobbler to fix worn shoes was a regular occurrence. Today, however, Timeless Shoe Repair is the only shoe repair shop left in Thunder Bay.
Son of a stone mason, Sugg inherited his hands (“and the gab”) from his British father who immigrated to Canada in the 1970s. He grew up in Thunder Bay and gravitated toward shoe repairs early on. From the age of 18, he spent a decade working as a cobbler and honing his skills. However, in his late 20s, he became restless. “I recognized that shoe repair wasn’t going to get me all the things I wanted when I was young and ambitious. I left what I loved doing most in pursuit of money.”
He worked in sales for a while, got a well-paid job on a drilling rig in Alberta and eventually ended up working with vending machines. “It just ignited my desire to be my own boss. I was building this other guy’s business up and I thought, you know, I want to do this for me.”
He decided to go back to Thunder Bay and his first passion, opening Timeless Shoe Repair on September 3, 2013. “Now I’m fortunate to be doing what I love the most. It’s not like work for me.”
Famous Shoe Repair was still open at the time, run by Jerry DeCicco, but he was elderly and thinking about retirement. When he passed away the following year, Sugg became the only cobbler left in the area.
Despite not doing any advertising except for maintaining his Facebook business page, Sugg says there has been a steady increase in customers. He suggests people bring in their winter footwear in the summer, and their summer footwear in the winter. “After the first snowfall in September or October, everyone gets their boots out and bring them in all at once.”
He repairs not only footwear but purses, belts, leather jackets, luggage and sports equipment. He can recondition old leather jackets that have lost their sheen; cleaning it, conditioning it and hydrating it while keeping the “battle scars.”
As far as shoes and boots go, he can pretty much do everything, from resoling to patching up a beloved shoe chewed up by the family dog. “I’ve taken some pretty beat up items and made them as close to new as possible. I really love a challenge like that.”
In his shop, he fixes not only leather items, but his own machinery, much of it very old. A couple of his sewing machines are from the 1940s, and some of his tools are no longer manufactured.
Hearing him talk about shoes, machines and tools with the kind of deep understanding that only true passion can give, you want to go home and look through the closets for shoes in need of repair. Just don’t call him and ask him for a quote sight unseen; he has to see it. Stopping by his shop is time well spent - it’s like a little timeless museum, and your footwear will be in the hands of a true professional.