The last cob­bler

Wanganui Midweek - - FRONT PAGE - By PAUL BROOKS

Kerry Purvis, the last of Whanganui’s old-style cob­blers, is clos­ing his shop and tak­ing re­tire­ment.

He and Mol­lie, his friendly lit­tle Bi­chon, will leave the Vic­to­ria Ave shop at the end of next month, end­ing 47 years of re­pair­ing shoes.

“When I left school I bummed around, as we did, for a few months. My broth­erin-law was go­ing to get me into wool grad­ing, but then Dad saw this ap­pren­tice­ship in shoe mak­ing and shoe re­pairs.”

The fifth of nine Purvis chil­dren, Kerry started a three and a half year ap­pren­tice­ship at Har­ri­son’s Shoe Re­pairs in Ridg­way St. It was 1970 and there were six shoe re­pair places in town.

“Shoes were made to last and you just kept re­pair­ing them,” he says. “As time went on peo­ple wanted to change their styles and shoes were made of lesser qual­ity – they wore out quicker or didn’t last.”

When he started the job, Kerry says they used to re­ceive two or three large coal sacks filled with shoes from around the coun­try.

“Plus Pa¯ tea Freez­ing Works used to send us boxes and boxes of their gum­boots. We used to cut the lugs off, glue and stitch a leather sole and put hob­nails on.”

Kerry loved the job and deal­ing with the pub­lic, so while Ted Har­ri­son’s other ap­pren­tices moved on, Kerry stayed in the job. Un­til work slowed and he found him­self work­ing as a plumber’s labourer for a year.

In 1987 he started his own shoe re­pair busi­ness in the old London town build­ing, along with some other small busi­nesses.

“I went to Auck­land, bought some ma­chines and started from scratch. It was very scary.

“Af­ter the Clay­ton Crowe

de­ba­cle we all had to move out so I moved with Lotto and Just Jok­ing to Tu­dor Court.” Clay­ton Crowe was a prop­erty de­vel­oper who caused the demise of a num­ber of Whanganui busi­nesses in the 1980s.

In 2000 he moved to the present larger premises at 149a Vic­to­ria Ave and ex­panded the shoe re­pair and key cut­ting busi­ness to in­clude en­grav­ing and re­tail.

Kerry has seen quite a few changes in the in­dus­try.

“The shoes them­selves are the big­gest change,” he says. “Peo­ple’s at­ti­tudes too have changed, es­pe­cially the younger ones, in that they want it done yes­ter­day and they want it done cheap.”

Kerry runs the busi­ness the old fash­ioned way and he misses some of the val­ues from the days when things were slower and peo­ple didn’t mind wait­ing for qual­ity work­man­ship.

He doesn’t own a com­puter and doesn’t in­tend to. He does own a “yup­pie phone” but that’s only in case of an emer­gency when he’s out fish­ing.

While key cut­ting and en­grav­ing is now com­put­erised, Kerry sticks to the old ways. His en­grav­ing uses a pan­ta­graph ma­chine, a me­chan­i­cal in­stru­ment orig­i­nally de­vised to copy writ­ing.

He is proud of the qual­ity of his work­man­ship and us­ing the best avail­able ma­te­ri­als in his shoe re­pairs.

He re­mem­bers when there were some good footwear man­u­fac­tur­ers in New Zealand, but most col­lapsed when cheaply-made shoes from Asia flooded the mar­ket. Shoe re­pairs suf­fered then too.

At al­most 65, Kerry is ready to re­tire. He has had 20 op­er­a­tions — with more to come — and is find­ing parts of the job dif­fi­cult. It is time to do the things he loves do­ing.

“I go sur­f­cast­ing and I love my vege gar­den, and I’ll take Mol­lie for walks.”

He and Jan, his wife of 44 years, plan to do a bit of car­a­van­ning too.

The lease on the shop runs out at the end of June and he has been un­able to sell the busi­ness, but he has found a buyer for the ma­chines who wants to take de­liv­ery by June 6. Af­ter that the shop will be open only for en­grav­ing and the last of his re­tail sales. Peo­ple are urged to pick up their shoes be­fore the end of next month.

“I would like to take this op­por­tu­nity to thank my wife, Jan, who has sup­ported me over the years, and all the cus­tomers who sup­ported me in busi­ness. Mol­lie, our lit­tle Bi­chon, will miss her daily pats and con­ver­sa­tions. I look for­ward to see­ing you on Fri­day, June 29, for a piece of cake and a chat.”


Kerry Purvis and Mol­lie are re­tir­ing.

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