Small business Monday – spotlight on Goodyear Shoe Hospital

Birmingham AL
Rhonda Patton, owner of Goodyear Shoe Hospital. photo via Kristina O’Quinn for Bham Now.

Are you a politician who’s walked the soles off of your shoes? Been dancing the night away and those heels need fixing? Rhonda Patton tells us how her ninety-eight-year-old business, Goodyear Shoe Hospital can “save your sole” in this week’s edition of Small Business Monday!

Birmingham AL
photo via Kristina O’Quinn for Bham Now

This business was started by Paul Scalici in 1919, on 20th Street North, across from the original Tutwiler Hotel. Paul’s son, Vincent, was best friends with my dad, Jack Patton, and they played football together in Ensley. When block 60, as it was called, was bought for development of Suntrust Bank,  My Dad got the business from Vincent and relocated it to 2016 3rd Ave. N.  That was in March of 1984, thirty-two years ago. I inherited it from him when he passed away. I am the sole proprietor, with a few part-time people doing repairs and Larry Watson shining shoes. We offer full-service shoe, belt and handbag repair. We also repair rips, stretch shoes and do custom dye jobs.

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photo via Eric Gray Photography

I was born and raised in Birmingham and when I was a child, Birmingham was booming. The Pizitz and Loveman’s were the replica of Bloomingdales in New York. Then the malls started being built. The first one was Eastwood Mall then Five Points West, then everyone started to pull away from downtown. When I was growing up in the 1960’s, there were more than thirty shoe repair shops in the metropolitan area. Now there are only fourteen. Most of those shops are second generation owned. In the heyday of ACIPCO and US Steel, there were five in downtown Ensley.

Birmingham AL
Rhonda Patton repairing a strap. photo via Kristina O’Quinn for Bham Now.

I had a customer tell me the other day that he had one regret in his life; that he had never learned a foreign language and never learned to fix anything. It just seems like fixing things is just getting further and further away. Nowadays, it’s just a throw-away society. Technology is taking job after job. Department stores are dropping like flies because everybody orders everything online. It’s still cheaper to have shoes repaired locally than to have them shipped off to be repaired. That helps a little bit. You can go online and find places to mail your shoes to, but there’s a breakdown in communication when someone third or fourth-hand is doing the repairs on your shoes. You just don’t get the same level of customer service and detail.

Birmingham AL
Custom dye station. photo via Kristina O’Quinn for Bham Now.

The best thing about owning a business is that you are your own boss! But there’s a misconception about sole proprietors, that you have a pocketful of money and can take a vacation whenever you like. That’s not true! When the cash register doesn’t cling, you don’t make money. The hardest thing about being a small business owner is if you don’t put your key in the door you don’t make any money. That’s the bottom line. If you don’t stay consistent, you don’t make money.

Birmingham AL
Heels are skillfully shaped. photo via Kristina O’Quinn for Bham Now.

Birmingham is reviving again, but in a different sense than when I was a child. The 60’s downtown was retail everywhere. The 2017 downtown is like a neighborhood. Directly across the street from me is a family of five. Nextdoor to me is condominiums. You see people walking their dogs, riding their bikes, going to the bistros and really good restaurants, going to the Alabama Theater. Praises to C.A.P.S. Downtown. They do a great job of taking care of folks here. It’s a real neighborhood now. Living downtown had been common for hundreds of years in other cities. I have friends in Vestavia and other suburbs that just don’t even have clue about how fun it is down here!

Birmingham AL
Ed Fields and Randall Woodfin get their shoes in top shape with the skill of Larry Watson. photo via Kristina O’Quinn for Bham Now.

Read more about folks moving downtown in this recent feature :

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Kristina O'Quinn
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