The last cobbler
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.