Mr. Van's Shoe Repair

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Walking into Mr. Van's Shoes, I see shoes. 

Lots and lots of shoes. 

Which should seem obvious, but never having brought a pair of shoes to a cobbler or knowing anyone who has, I half expected to walk into a bare, struggling shop held together by cobwebs and dust. 

"How's business?" I ask.

"Business is good," says Garrett Williams, owner.

I admit to him that surprises me. "Until people stop wearing shoes, they will need someone to fix them," he says. 

Garret isn't Mr. Van.

"When I bought the business, I kept the name to keep the clients." Garrett says that this decision was one of the best he's made. 

The "original" Mr. Van accumulated happy customers over thirty year career in shoe repair, something you can only buy with time and effort. 

On top of the shop, equipment, and customer base, the original owner, Gerry Heiser, also served as a mentor for Garrett, offering advice both on Shoe Repair as well as business practice. 

"I'm happy that he wanted to purchase the business and have Mr. Van's, you know, carry on. It's kind of a win-win situation for both of us," Heiser said.

I ask Garrett about the biggest mistake he's made as a business owner.

"Well, it's one I keep making, but I try not to. Does that count?"

I laugh and say it does.

"They say 'under promise and over deliver', but I keep messing that up."


From the time I walked into the shop, he was eager to teach me all the things that you need to know in shoe repair, and how he loved it because every day was a chance to get better at his craft by solving a different problem. 

So it's not surprising, being a craftsman, that he talks about how he runs his business in much the same way, that he needs self-awareness and hard work to close the gap between where he's at and "perfect".

Garrett was planning on taking over the shop he apprenticed at down in Detroit, but those plans fell through. 

"That didn't work out, but this is better." It seems like a bit of luck, having a chance at owning his own cobbler shop fail just as a better opportunity in his hometown opened up. 

I asked him what his best advice would be to someone wanting to start their own business. 

"Lucky people work hard."