When customers first walk into Busy Shoes Shoe Repair, they’re greeted by a plethora of shoes, handbags, shoe accessories and a noisy machine that looks like it can handle all of your shoe needs.
Customers are also greeted by Kathy Matson, the woman behind all of the store’s operations.
“I’ve been doing this for 40 years,” Matson said. “I do all of the work. I love what I’m doing. It’s satisfying to be creative and make something out of nothing.”
In her 40 years working as a cobbler, she has owned seven shops. She once owned four at one time alongside her ex-husband.
Originally, she did not expect to get into the profession, but after working for another cobbler, she picked up the trade herself.
Now in Federal Way, Matson handles everything related to shoe and leather repair.
She can replace shoe soles, raise and lower heels, repair handbags, refinish leather coats, shorten belts and more.
Cobblers, according to Matson, are much rarer these days as the trade has been consistently in decline.
“There used to be over 600 [shoe repair businesses] in Washington,” Matson said. “Now there’s less than 100; probably less than 70.”
Matson believes many factors have contributed to the decline, including rising costs of materials, bad locations, bad employees and less people to hand the trade down.
Over the years, Matson has noticed that not many people take good enough care of their shoes, particularly just after buying them.
“A lot of people think you can buy a brand new shoe and be able to wear it right away,” Matson said. “But they’re made so cheaply now that if you don’t know someone like me, you’ll mess them up and keep buying new shoes. If you bring them in and make some small alterations to them, they’ll last a whole lot longer and be a lot more comfortable.”
Matson says there aren’t many shoes she cannot improve or repair. Some repairs can be done in matter of minutes, such as gluing a sole back on, but the average repair time is about a week.
For customers who come by after hours, shoes can be dropped off in a drop box located at the store.
Her busiest time of year is when it’s cold and wet out, when people tend to damage their shoes more.
“Repairing them is the best way to go,” Matson said. “I try to find ways to take what the store gives you and make improvements on it.”
One of her favorite parts of the job is informing people how they can better take care of the shoes from the start.
“I love educating them,” said Matson. “It’s really surprising to a lot of people how much they don’t know about shoe repair, because it’s not limited to shoe repair. There’s a lot more variety involved.”
Since coming to Federal Way, Matson says the community has been very good to her. Since much of her business comes from word-of-mouth, she believes that her customers have left feeling satisfied enough to tell others about her work.
Matson is hoping to continue as a cobbler for at least another 10 years. She also says she would welcome an apprentice at some point for the help and to keep the trade going.
“Good help is hard to find in this trade,” Matson said.
Busy shoes is located at 1414 S. 324th St., Suite B212, in the Celebration Center.