Went to the cobbler yesterday. Yes, I said cobbler. Nu-Way Shoe Repair. Felt like I was in Mayberry. It was Johnson City.

And I liked it.

Would it have been easier to throw away the old shoes and Amazon a new pair? (Is Amazon a verb yet the way Google is?) Sure. But, there’s a method to my madness: I try to shop local and support small business.

Back to Nu-Way Shoe Repair. The proprietor at this shop has been repairing shoes for me for more than 25 years. No, he doesn’t know my name. That’s ok. He smiles and says good morning. And he doesn’t ask for my email address or track my online cookie crumbs! And then there’s the smell of his shop. I may be alone in this, but for some reason nothing conjures boyhood memories like the smell of tanning leather and shoe polish. So, after a quick consult—essentially a few grunts—between two guys, with the shoes between us on the counter, I agreed the heels and soles should be replaced. No dickering. No fuss. No muss. “They’ll be ready next Wednesday,” he said. I took my ticket and came back in a week. “Good morning, how’d you make out,” I asked. “Well, looks like we did okay,” the cobbler humbly replied as he placed the better-than-new shoes on the counter. For those who have not had the experience of a newly shorn pair of old shoes, I will share why they are better than new. The secret’s out: they are yours, they fit like a glove, they are soft, and now they are restored, freshly shined up and ready to wear. So enamored was I with what he had made of these formerly sad, neglected, back-of-the-closet shoes, that I walked over to the Tingley display and picked up a brand spanking new pair of rubbers to go with them. Remember those black overshoes your father wore and you mocked? Like snow tires for your feet, it turns out they provide really good traction in snow and ice and keep the shoes clean and dry in a workmanlike manner. And the cobbler dude showed me how to put them on without ripping them! Kinda doubt Amazon has a video on that. Maybe YouTube does? But there he was, live and in-person demonstrating for me how to slide the shoe all the way up into the toe of the overshoe before trying to pull it back and over the heel. Customer, meet service.

The other reason I try to shop small and local is that I own a small business myself. I know people have choices, often a keystroke or swipe-of-the-phone away in today’s e-commerce world. So I appreciate that they stick with my company. My colleagues and I truly value their loyalty and are grateful for the food they enable to be put on our holiday tables.

To quote one of our clients, Bob Fisher, president and CEO of Tioga State Bank, “When you choose to support local businesses, you chose to invest your dollars back into your community. In fact, about 68% of what you spend with local establishments is reinvested, compared to about 43% when you shop at a national chain. Not only do you support our communities, you help sustain local jobs, local decision-making and entrepreneurship.” Well said.

So today, I went to the Hardware Store on my lunch hour. Kovarik Hardware is the place. In Binghamton’s First Ward. It’s right out of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood! I often wonder if Mr. Speedy Delivery is going to ride by on his bike and wave.

Here, they know my name. At least Debby Kovarik does. Joe, not so much. But he did loan me his truck one day. Here’s that story.

I bought a new gas grill at his store, based on his recommendation. They assembled it, for no extra charge, of course. Ringing it up, he says, “So how you gonna get that home?” Hmmm, hadn’t even crossed my mind that a Honda Accord won’t hold a fully assembled gas grill. “Take my truck,” he says and throws me the keys. How do you like that? Yes, his delivery person could have brought it to me. But take a lesson from Joe, another master at customer service. How do you earn customer loyalty and trust? How about being loyal and trusting to your customer?

I have told this story a dozen times, and it never ceases to elicit a big smile or a bemused “Really, he just handed you the keys?” reaction. So I go to Kovarik Hardware every chance I can. While Lowe’s and Home Depot have their place, I’ll take Kovarik nine times out of 10. And if they don’t have what I need, they’ll order it for me so I can pick it up at the store in a couple days. I don’t need another brown cardboard box with a smile on it anyway. I’d rather have a smile from a real live person. Like Debby or Joe Kovarik.

Please support local businesses when you shop for the holidays and every day! Saturday, November 25, is Small Business Saturday.

Happy Holidays!


By Steve Johnson (channeling late, great 60 Minutes curmudgeon Andy Rooney)

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