Tim Willig is awesome and he has the business cards to prove it. The shoe and leather repairman doesn’t have “cobbler” written anywhere on his aforementioned business cards. Rather, the official title listed for the owner/operator of Awesome Time Shoe and Leather Repair simply reads: “Awesome Guy.” And in a disposable society, Willig’s ability to keep items wearable instead of trashable does indeed make him just that.
Willig grew up in Winton Place and now lives in Over-the-Rhine, but he’s been working out of the Casablanca Vintage storefront in Northside since 2001. Before he knew any tricks of the cobbler trade, he worked for Casablanca’s previous owner doing mostly retail. But in 2004, the opportunity for an apprenticeship with a second-generation cobbler presented itself.
The previous owner of Casablanca knew the owner of a shoe repair business down the street, who was closing up shop to move to Los Angeles. “His dad taught him since he was little,” Willig says, “and they kind of thought, ‘Maybe Tim would wanna do that?’ So they said, ‘We’re thinking about doing this, would you wanna learn how to do it?’ ”
And with his agreement, Casablanca gained a shoe repair arm of the business. Shortly thereafter, Willig acquired a dedicated spot in one corner of the vintage boutique (for the metal behemoths of equipment required for his edification) and began a yearlong training with the retiring cobbler before he left for the West Coast. Several years later, he purchased the shoe repair business outright from his former boss.
Willig’s description of his training is, “You learn how to take it all apart and put it back together again.” Though humble about the fact, Willig is not new to working with his hands.
He repaired “little things” on banjos — an instrument he’s played for more than a decade — and also taught friends to play. He insists his work as a musician (he also plays the guitar) has nothing to do with his work as a cobbler, but manual dexterity is a prerequisite of both jobs.
His daily tasks at Awesome Time also involve a good deal of multi-tasking and ingenuity.
“Some things are cut and dry,” Willig says. “You repair boots. I know it’s get the soles off, put a new one on, stitch it up and put new heels on. You don’t really have to think too much about it. There’s other things where it’s like, ‘OK, how do I even start doing this?’ ”
One such project was a vintage doctor’s bag, given to Willig’s family doctor by his parents when he went away to medical school. Willig replaced all but the original hardware (hinges, handle, cardboard base and metal feet) including about half of the leather on the front of the case.
He admits that some projects are non-repairable, but mostly — and perhaps ironically — they’re newer objects, often made from synthetic materials. (Think vinyl instead of leather, plastic instead of wood.) For instance, he says, “I’ll get a 25-year-old shoe that’s been fixed three times already, and I’ll fix it again and they can wear it perfectly fine. Newer stuff, you can still fix. But the number of times it’s made to be fixed is much lower.”
But, Willig insists, “shoes are one of the few things that can actually be fixed these days,” compared to the disposability of mass-produced clothes.
And you’d probably never see the leather/shoe repairman wearing anything he bought at a mall — much less anything contemporary. The kind of guy who can (and does) rock a three-piece suit with spectators in the middle of summer, even Willig’s “work clothes” are legitimate examples of vintage men’s work wear. But he’s been doing this before vintage became the “new black” it is today.
Around 12 years ago, when Willig started working at Casablanca, he says he suddenly realized, “There were all these clothes I could wear! They fit me and they looked good. I knew this was something I can do and make it my own.”
And make it his own Willig has. After a “landlord issue,” which required Willig move and store his substantial equipment for three months outside of Casablanca, he changed the name of his company from “Northside Shoe Repair” to “Awesome Time Shoe and Leather Repair”— in case he ever had to move again.
He’s been back in his old spot in the vintage boutique for about a year now but his focus remains the same: restoring beloved objects for their owners.
“We definitely live in a disposable society,” Willig says, “so it’s satisfying to help people be able to keep things that they love.”
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