MARION — A chance of timing and personal and community connections helped Jason “Doc” Rogers launch his new career as owner of Doc’s Repairs in Marion.
“I was really getting frustrated with work, and my wife and I were having dinner and I was venting about it, and she just says, ‘Well, why don’t we call Phil?,’” Rogers, 48, recalled one recent quiet morning while he and Minnie, Doc’s “customer service” dog, awaited the day’s first customer.
Rogers and his wife, Gina Rogers, had met the owner and operator of a Sigourney shoe-repair shop through a mutual friend.
“Every time we talked to him, he was telling my wife, ‘You know, I want to retire someday, but I don’t want to retire until I have somebody to pick it up, so I’ll give you a heck of a deal,’ ” Rogers said.
Rogers and his wife had worked decades as project managers for different telecommunications firms but were ready to make a change.
“We decided that we’ve got enough stuff,” he said. “We’ve done all right for ourselves. We’ve been frugal and smart with our money. We wanted to start enjoying things more. So this was a way for me, at least, to have a less stressful environment and be able to do things on my own terms.”
Meanwhile, in Marion
As the Rogerses weighed their options, Rich Foens was shutting down Smitty’s Shoe Repair, a fixture in Marion’s Uptown neighborhood for 90 years.
“She would go sit with him and watch him lace baseball gloves and loved to hear him talk about wrestling,” Rogers said. “He told her, ‘Anybody can do shoe repair. You can take something apart and look at it. You get something different every day. You’ve just got to look at it and figure it out.’”
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Rogers took vacation days for a brief apprenticeship with their Sigourney shoe-repair man before buying his equipment late last November. He began by taking in work from local shoe stores — he cites Brown’s Shoe Fit in Marion as an early supporter — while he searched for a location.
Unable to find a suitable opening in the Uptown area, Rogers found space in a light industrial/commercial neighborhood east of Highway 151.
“I’m in kind of an odd area,” he said. “But there’s a lot of good people out here. You’re not going to get a lot of foot traffic for shoe repair, so I’m a destination. As soon as I opened up, we were flooded (with business).”
Lots to learn
The learning curve was “kind of steep,” Rogers said. “But a lot of it’s pretty basic, and there’s a really good culture online of shoe repair. They’ve been very, very helpful. I can get online and leave a message, and I’ve got a response from five different guys.”
The biggest challenge in modern shoe repair is often simply determining just what a shoe is made of.
“There are a few different types of shoe construction out there, and once you learn them, it’s pretty easy,” Rogers said. “Most things are glued together nowadays, and different types of material don’t take glue very well. You may have one manufacturer making the exact same make and model of shoe in three different countries and, in each of them, you’ll have a slightly different type of material. That’s the hardest part.”
Lots of variety
Doc’s Repairs — the nickname is from Rogers’ days as a Navy combat medic — also repairs purses and bags, leather jackets and baseball gloves. He’s even repaired a baseball umpire’s chest protector.
“I have all kinds of stuff coming in here,” Rogers said. “People bring in vinyl dog kennels that their dog chewed a hole in. I relace a lot of ball gloves, I buy the leather straps from a guy who makes custom gloves for major league baseball.
“Coats, zippers, patches. I’ve got this old 1940s machine that will stitch through about anything. It’ll take some time, but it’s just a matter if I can fit it under the needle.”
Foens helps maintain all those specialized machines, which date to the 1940s and ’50s.
“I said, ‘I can’t afford you. Just come down and tell me what I’m doing wrong,’ ” Rogers said. “ ‘If you’re really, really bored. I’ve got a machine that’s giving me problems.’ He called me 10 minutes later and said, ‘I’ll be right over.’ He started repairing shoes when he was 10 years old and retired when he was 80.”
Gina Rogers’ own handmade handbags are sold at Doc’s, too.
“She buys whole hides and then she looks at the contours and the grain. She tries to incorporate the character of the hide into it, which drives me crazy,” Rogers said. “I’ll say, ‘Oh, this bag’s popular. Let’s make a template and cut the leather and we can stitch it.’ She’ll say, ‘No.’ She does all the stitching by hand.”
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A healthy demand for his work keeps Doc’s humming, with a little help from others in the business.
“There are people out there who are still doing (shoe repair). You’ve just got to find them,” Rogers said. “And when you do, everybody just wants to keep it going. I put in a lot more hours now, but I really enjoy it. I control the quality.”
At a glance
• Business: Doc’s Repairs
• Owner: Jason Rogers
• Address: 593 62nd St., Suite 110, Marion
• Phone: (319) 455-6757
• Website: facebook.com/docsrepairs