LIHU’E – Ray Duarte says one of the secrets of his success is taking some advice from the now-retired Maurice Lardizabal, when Duarte first went to get his business registered a quarter century ago.
To be successful, stay small, Lardizabal advised.
After 25 years in business on Kaua’i, three locations and hundreds of repairs later, Duarte and The Shoe Repair Shop continue going strong.
Keeping the business small, on purpose, has allowed him to remain in charge, control the quality of all repairs, and be in contact with his customers, he said.
Remarkably, The Shoe Repair Shop, which also does baggage and clothing repairs, remains the only such shop on the island. “I’m the one and only,” said Duarte, 53.
This is not to say that others didn’t attempt to compete. Several times, people begged him to teach them the fine art of shoe repair. He refused each time, understanding that he would be training his own competition if he said “yes.”
Although the shop does baggage repair work for all of the airlines at Lihue Airport, and has recently added clothing repair to its repertoire, shoe repair remains the majority of its business, Duarte said.
Last week marked the 25th anniversary of the shop, now located along Hardy Street near Kauai Community Federal Credit Union and Isonaga Jeweler.
Some customers complain about the cost of repair being nearly the same as the cost of a new pair of shoes. He tells them to buy new shoes in most of those cases.
“Our shop has become like the last stop, before they throw it away, or they don’t know what to do with it,” he said.
Still, there are a lot of people on Kaua’i with good taste in shoes, said Duarte, who compares a good pair of shoes to a fine bottle of wine.
“And people are finding out that there’s better shoes in their closet than in the stores,” he added.
Those who choose to have their shoes repaired instead of replaced do so because they fit, are comfortable, broken in, and are dependable styles that become favorites, he said.
Many customers come in with shoes that need to be stretched to fit them, as many people on Kaua’i have large and wide feet, he continued.
Duarte learned shoe repair on the Mainland, and when he came back to Kaua’i, Marty Kahn of Kahn Galleries helped put Duarte in touch with a man who had all the necessary equipment to establish a shoe-repair business in his garage.
Duarte bought the equipment, and within a month The Shoe Repair Shop opened for business, in a small shack along Kuhio Highway in Lihu’e between the Lihue Shell station and 7-Eleven.
Hurricane ‘Iwa in 1982 forced the shop to move to Kukui Grove, where the shop remained until the 1999 move to the present Hardy Street location.
Inside the shop, 60- and 70-year old sewing machines, a large stitcher to fix soles, and other equipment resides. The sewing machine is used for stitching up straps, sewing on patches, and repair work on bags and shoes.
With over 30 years of experience in his chosen trade, Duarte shows no signs of slowing down, and still takes great pride in his work. “I fell into it. It was interesting, and you get to meet people,” he said.
“You take something old and worn and make it look new again,” said the craftsman. “Not everything ugly can be made to look new.”
Business has been steady since he first opened, and there was never a time he thought he and the business wouldn’t be anything but successful.
Getting his son Sanoe to embrace the business was a bit of a different story. He had to wait until Sanoe, now 22, had the desire to learn the business.
“Now, he does excellent work. He gets the credit, and I get the cash,” said Ray Duarte.
Ray and Eunice Duarte, who has worked alongside her husband for 25 years, also have a daughter, Nalani Vidal, 24. There are no grandchildren yet.
“I can heel and save soles,” says Duarte, repeating the words found on the shop business card.
The shop is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. For more information, please call 245-6543.