The Last Shoemaker Standing
Bolivia’s Danny Galloway and the lost art of shoe repair.
Who do you call for shoe repair in Brunswick County? After a frustrating Internet search, you will find a number of dead-ends and, finally, the contact info for perhaps the last man in the business in the entire county. He is 76-year-old Danny Galloway.
You might just get turned around, too, trying to find his home-based shoe shop. Along Bolivia’s rural Midway Road between Highways 17 and 11 is the street-side sign for “Danny’s Shoe Repairing 253-4298.” Not just shoes, mind you, but “Rips, Boots, Zippers and Leather Jackets.” Some say he’ll even shorten a belt and add a hole or two. But try not to miss that sign out in God’s country.
Galloway’s a native son. His father worked a Porgie boat in Southport, and his dad’s old lifesaving ring buoy hangs prominently in his shop these days. Galloway grew up in the Marsh neighborhood, and his family moved to Bolivia after the Sunny Point construction. He’s a 1960 graduate of the Brunswick County Training School. He married his wife, Joyce, 51 years ago. She’s a New Jersey native, and they met at a football game up there a few years after Galloway had moved to Jersey to work at the Enderlein iron foundry in Blackwood in 1961.
Joyce says Galloway is industrious and was a good provider for their family of two daughters and a son. He always worked two jobs, she says, and he learned shoe-making in 1965 while up North, from a friend’s father. Galloway says he put in 13-hour days as a young man. He worked four years part-time for his shoemaker mentor, Jim Hill, in addition to his full-time foundry work. He says it took a couple years to learn the profession, so as Hill schooled him in repair, Galloway earned good money as his “shoe-shine boy.” He says it was a “sit and wait shine.” The men would sit in a chair and put their feet up on a metal foot-stool, while Galloway slathered-on paste then buffed their shoes with rags and brushes.
Galloway learned not only shoe-repair, but also how to make new shoes from the “last” up. He also bronzed baby shoes, which was something sentimental families did back then. They would have their baby’s first shoes dipped in liquid bronze, which became treasured keepsakes for future memories.
In 1969 he paid $30,000 to buy the equipment of a retiring shoemaker, then opened his first solo operation in Pennsauken, New Jersey. He worked there until 1995, then decided to move back to North Carolina for health reasons. He shipped all his machines to Midway Road and a house he had bought as a summer vacation home in 2005. A carpenter built his present shop adjacent to the house, and that is where he is today.
Galloway says that was a huge amount of money in those days, and if he had to buy the same equipment today he couldn’t afford it. The machinery includes two types of stitchers, a heel pull machine, heel presses, shoe stretchers, a finisher, a trimmer, a polisher and a sander. He says each one would cost more than $30,000 if purchased today.
Galloway fixes all kinds of shoes. As a plus, he repairs and replaces zippers, restores golf bags and fixes belts and purses. He can also mend a ripped suit. These are skills other shoemakers don’t have, and they set him apart. His tools are scattered all over his shop, but he seems to know just where they are when he needs them. There are shoe rasps, edge trimmers, shoe hammers, lasts, leather-skins, heel blocks and cobbler pliers. He can still get supplies in Pennsylvania and receives deliveries monthly.
Footwear probably started with sandals a thousand or more years before Christ, and we have come a long way since sandals, Galloway says. “But if your sandal straps come loose, I’ll fix them for you,” he says with a laugh. He can create a new pair of sandals if he wants to and has a closet with shoes he’s restored for himself, which he wears to church. But he doesn’t make new shoes for folks anymore, nor bronze baby shoes. His focus is on repairs.
Shoes aren’t like they used to be, Galloway says. Cheaply made overseas, many of them just fall apart. But he says if you invest in a good pair of shoes, he can maintain them for a long time. They will look good and you don’t have to keep buying new ones. He charges between $12 and $14 for ladies’ heels, $20 to $24 for women’s cowboy boot heels and $30 to $35 for men’s cowboy heels. Sole replacements are $25 to $30 for women’s and $35 to $40 for men’s shoes. Buy a good pair, he says, and keep them good, and they will last.
Galloway says shoemaking is a lost art for the young generation. He taught his son, who is in his 40s, but he prefers his work as a tractor-trailer driver. There’s nobody to leave his profession and equipment to, to keep the business going. And it’s getting harder for people to find a professional shoe repair shop anywhere. He says he is the only shoemaker left in the county as far as he knows. The shoemaker in Shallotte recently left, and he thinks the shoemakers in Myrtle Beach also have stopped serving.
“I am happy out here,” Galloway says. “I stay nine to five, and Saturday at noon I quit and watch football unless I’m busy. Sunday I go to church. I take my time. I tell customers to give me a couple days out unless they must have the work right away. I really enjoy this. What else am I going to do?”
Galloway’s retirement hobby has continued as a pleasurable career for 10 years in Bolivia, and some of his customers have been coming back all those years. He continues to take on new customers all the time, as his profession wanes, and there is really no other place to go other than Danny’s Shoe Repairing at 1779 Midway Road – perhaps the very end of a noble era.