90-year-old cob­bler fi­nally pre­pared to step into re­tire­ment

The Province - - NEWS - PA­TRICK JOHN­STON pjohn­ston@post­media.com twit­ter.com/risin­gac­tion

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.

JA­SON PAYNE/PNG

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.

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