Culture  These boots are now made for walking

The advantages of repair over retail at Imperial Boots

As fleets of trucks armed with salt and sand disperse through the Montreal streets, it’s inevitable that your soles will fall victim to a ruthless combination of saltwater stains and gritty wear-and-tear. By the end of the season, most shoes serve as dilapidated reminders of strolls through the city, and have been trudged beyond salvation, or at least beyond looking publically presentable. My own have been reduced to: vintage suede converse with stuffing bursting at the seams, scuffed-up leather lace-ups with worn down heels, and unstitched lining, salt-lined oxfords with a hole in the toe.

Nothing is more aggravating than having to shoe shop when your perfectly-worn-yet-slightly-damaged kicks support your feet better than a grandmother’s orthopedic loafers. So, instead of tossing out your old shoes and dropping cash on a new pair, it’s time to start considering a smarter alternative.

This year, when my recently purchased pair of leather boots began detaching at the sole, I decided that it was time to seek out some repair expertise. This brought me to Imperial Boots, an old shoe repair shop below the intersection of Bleury and Sherbrooke, easily distinguished by its cowboy boot window paintings and timeless shoe displays. The store itself bears the atmosphere of a place frozen in time, with its dated red and yellow paintjob blending into the classic wooden backboard, setting the retro tone. Handmade leather boots of all styles line the room, matching the colorful myriad of leather swatches hanging from the back wall. Sturdy metal sewing machines and sanding devices hide in the back room, their labels more than a half-century old.

When I first entered the store, the elderly Greek owner was bent over on all fours, carefully examining a pair of handmade boots on one of his patrons. “This is too long for you, madame,” he insisted, and began taking intricate measurements of her feet to craft a custom pair. The man behind the business, who prefers to remain anonymous, not only sells his own styles of boots, but also takes custom orders. Just bring in a design of your ideal leather footwear, and he’ll see what he can do.

Of course, this luxury comes with a cost. Prices for custom-made boots start at around $200, and while this is a stretch for most students, it could be a worthy investment for quality and longevity. Unlike the shoes in a retail store, which often distance the consumer from the manufacturer, having your own personal cobbler would not only bring support to a local business, but also slow down your annual trend of mass consumption and disposal. “I’ve owned this shop for 42 years,” he often reassured me, “these shoes will last you a long time.”

Shoe repair is an economically friendly venture for students – the cost for my boot repair was only $5. Rather than stretching your credit limit for replacements, repairs allow you to maintain the balance of durable footwear and the familiar feel of broken-in comfort. Pay a little extra for reconditioning and protection, and your shoes will last you as long as a new pair at a sliver of the cost. However, you must remain mindful of the condition of your shoes before you bring them in. The owner is known for abruptly turning down customers that have shoes that he deems hopeless cases.

So, for those of us who prefer to explore the city by foot, it’s time to find preventative measures against the deadly streets and put an end to the yearly boot casualties. Think twice next time you are about to throw out those winter-worn shoes. Instead of burning a hole in your pocket, you could mend those holes in your soles for the price of a cup of coffee.