90-year-old cobbler finally prepared to step into retirement
Thursday is the last time 90-year-old Henry Ng will work a 12-hour shift as a cobbler.
Ng has run his shop, Henry’s Shoe Repair, in Vancouver’s Punjabi Market neighbourhood for a half-century. Now he’s retiring.
The short man, owner of possibly the world’s widest smile, laughed when asked if he could really give up his dawn-to-dusk routine with a metaphorical snap of the fingers.
“Play in the garden. Drink coffee,” he said of how he’ll fill his days, beginning Friday.
Ng’s children and his wife encouraged him to lay down his tools. He’s worn a homemade wooden back brace for years and his legs aren’t what they used to be.
But the shop is still well-stocked with all kinds of spare parts and shoe-repair supplies. And he still drives a car.
“I figured I was going to work till I was 100,” he said.
At one point, Ng insisted no one cares about a 90-year-old retiring.
Moments later, loyal customer Gerald Moores stopped by to give Ng a thank-you card. Moores called the jovial retiree “a community institution.”
“He’s a reliable craftsman who’s here every hour of every day. Always available to his customers,” Moores said.
Over the years, Ng earned a reputation for not just his abilities as a cobbler, but also for his abilities to repair just about anything. Cyclone Taylor Sports, the famed sports shop not far away at 49th and Oak, has sent Ng hockey gloves and equipment needing repair for years.
“He’s an awesome guy,” John Woodward, manager of the Oak location said.
Fred Cyclone Jr., who first opened the hockey store in 1957, began sending over gloves, goalie pads and hockey pants “years ago.”
“We’d send people his way and he’d take care of them. He even used to do skate-sharpening. He did it all,” Woodward said.
Shortly after the end of the Second World War, Ng left his small home village in Taishan, China, and initially lived in Hong Kong for a few years, where he learned to be a tailor.
He moved to Vancouver in the early 1950s. For a time, he worked at the pulp mill in Port Alice, at the northern end of Vancouver Island.
At age 40, he came back to the big city and set up Henry’s Shoe Repair on Main Street, just south of West 49th Avenue. After renting that location for about a decade, he bought his own space, just up the road, between 48th and 49th. He’s been there since.
Ng sold his business to Les Both of Both Feet on Main Street Shoe Repair, who is losing his location at 28th and Main to redevelopment.
“It (the sale) was almost like it was written, the timing was almost perfect,” Both said.
The friendly rival would send customers Ng’s way, especially with hockey equipment.
“The guy’s been there 50 years. It’s going to be a bit of a change,” Both said.
Both said he’ll move his operation down to Ng’s location in the new year, and intends to carry on with equipment repair as well as shoe repair.
Cobbler Henry Ng has sold his shoe-repair business on Main Street in Vancouver and is ready to enjoy spending his days in his garden and drinking coffee.