Whether he’s repairing leather sandals and boots or horse saddles and harnesses, there’s one moment Jay Calara is thinking about when he’s putting the finishing touches on repairing leather product repair — presenting the finished product to the customer.
Having used machines capable of trimming, sanding and brushing leather for years, Calara has developed an eye for the details that might have compelled a customer to part with hundreds of dollars to buy a pair of boots or expensive leather shoes.
“That’s the hardest part of shoe repair,” he said. “You have to present it to the customer as beauty.”
After years of repairing shoes at shops in San Francisco, Calara is casting his eye on the shoes, belts, handbags and other leather goods that Peninsula residents bring to his business at 310 S. San Mateo Drive. In mid-August, Calara took the reins of The Cobbler, a shoe repair business Nairi and Sam Samurkashian owned for nearly 30 years before retiring.
Together with his wife Dana Calara, Jay Calara is planning to offer the same services the Samurkashians provided at the downtown San Mateo mainstay. By offering dry cleaning services, alterations and shoe repair, the Calaras are hoping customers see it as a one-stop-shop business.
Nairi Samurkashian said she bought the business decades ago from her brother, who started the business in 1972, a time she said when many others were going into shoe repair. With her brother’s help, Nairi Samurkashian said she was able to build a business with several employees working on all aspects of shoe repair, from putting new soles on shoes to polishing them and everything in between.
Nairi Samurkashian said customers have come to the business in the hopes the employees can repair a wide range items, including everything from handbags to pieces of luggage. She also acknowledged the pressure that can accompany customers bringing costly items into the store to be repaired, but noted the work is always well worth it when they can see their faces light up when they return for their items.
Though Nairi Samurkashian has seen other repair businesses close over time, she said she added dry cleaning and alteration services to her business to keep it afloat and has also seen the need for repair services grow in recent years as the number of stores available to customers drops. “All businesses are changing, ours is changing as well,” she said. “But it’s still there. People need to repair things and they have to go somewhere.”
Nairi Samurkashian said she and her husband were ready to retire when they met Jay Calara, who was looking to start his own business and expressed interest in carrying on the tradition in their downtown retail space. She said she was encouraged to see a younger couple step forward to take on a business that has become increasingly rare in today’s society.
Though her background is in the medical field, Dana Calara said she is looking forward to working with her husband to start their own business in San Mateo, just a year after they were married. For Dana Calara, continuing to foster the relationships the Samurkashians built over the years and helping customers keep and use their favorite items time and again are among the reasons why she’s excited for their new chapter in San Mateo.
“That’s what we wanted for this store,” she said. “You don’t have to really buy a new pair if you really like it.”
As they are settling into their new routine, Dana Calara said the couple has enjoyed getting to know the business’ community of customers, a feature Nairi Samurkashian also cherished in her years running the repair shop. From generations within the same family to startup founders, the business’ customers served became a part of the community surrounding The Cobbler, noted Nairi Samurkashian, who looked forward to seeing the Calaras continue a longtime family tradition.
“The nice thing is, about this particular store, we’re community-oriented and we know everyone,” she said. “Most of the people who come in we’ve known for years.”
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