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Refuge for the sole

In shoe-repair trade, Wren’s thrives as competition dwindles
Tuesday, November 28, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 9:18 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

It’s been 25 years since Wren’s Birkenstock began repairing Columbia’s shoes, and although the location has changed several times, inside the shop it’s business as usual.

As one of only three shops in town that offer shoe repair services, owner George Wren and cobbler Bill Claypool have carried on a tradition that has lost both appeal and relevance in recent years.

Wren says that when he began his business in the early 1980s he had to contend with 12 other businesses in Columbia. These days there are only three.

According to Claypool, the decline of this service has mainly been a result of a trend by shoe manufacturers toward inexpensive mass production.

“There’s a generation that doesn’t know about shoe repair,” Claypool says. “These days people are buying shoes that are cheaper and can’t be repaired. They go out and buy a whole new pair of shoes when all they need is a $15 repair.”

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Bill Claypool, a cobbler at Wren’s Birkenstock on Broadway, grinds down newly patched cork on the heel of a sandal to make the cork match the original shape.

Wren’s has been able to stay in business over the years due to its niche appeal. Working heavily with Birkenstock, a company known for long-lasting and easily repaired sandals and other products, Wren’s has been able to keep up its sales and maintain a steady flow of customers.

Tucked in the back of the store in a cramped repair shop, Wren and Claypool work together to mend, glue and grind their way through the day.

Working with shoes can be tedious work, Claypool said, so the two have developed a pretty light-hearted relationship and try not to take things too seriously.

“I’ve been wanting to quit for years, and George has been wanting to fire me,” Claypool said. “We just haven’t been able to get together.”


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