A custom shoe store in West Edmonton Mall is using three generations of family to keep the traditional way of making footwear alive.
Julio Sanchez has been repairing shoes in the city’s largest shopping centre since the 1980s. Today, his Custom Shoes by Zapato Sanchez store is one of the oldest shoe repair shops in Alberta.
“When I came here, there were about 100 shoe repair shops,” said Sanchez, who came to Canada from Chile in 1977 while in his 20s. “There was three shops within one block on 118 Avenue. Now I think you can count them (city total) with one hand.”
When Sanchez moved to Edmonton, he was unsure if he’d follow in the footsteps of his father, who worked in the shoe industry back home in South America. Sanchez worked as a janitor and a welder but “hated it, all of them, until I had the opportunity to open this shoe repair shop.”
He started in West Edmonton Mall’s old International Marketplace with a small booth, eventually moving to other spots in the mall before settling in his current spot on the second floor of the sprawling complex’s east-side Phase 1.
Today, the store’s focus has changed, expanding from being just a shoe-repair business to offering custom shoes as well starting in 2016, thanks to the involvement of Sanchez’s son, Rodrigo Sanchez.
The younger Sanchez spent a year in Milan, Italy, learning how to make custom shoes from skilled craftsmen there.
“I noticed there was definitely a hole in the Edmonton market for well-made handmade shoes for men,” Rodrigo told CTV News Edmonton. “We’re just unfortunately dealing with fast fashion these days, so everything that’s manufactured is disposable.”
His father has noticed the difference in business traffic since they added making shoes to their stable of services.
“He came back and we’ve started making shoes like crazy and we haven’t stopped,” said Julio.
Every pair of shoes shoppers see on the shelves at Custom Shoes by Zapato Sanchez is designed by Rodrigo.
“If I can provide a manufacturing facility or just a small shoe-making crew, with my blueprints and my moulds, then they can go into production,” he said.
Rodrigo has begun offering classes on shoemaking to anyone interested, aiming to share the knowledge he picked up overseas.