March 25, 2002 - Saving Soles

For three decades they've been saving soles in south Louisiana, but they don't run a church or a mission. All in all, it's a good place to visit. You do run into a heel now and then, but mostly they're good souls -- you know, straight laced.

The owner offers this explanation: "They have their favorite shoe. They do not want to give it up. They want to have it repaired, and we can do it." The Militello family has been fixing shoes in Baton Rouge for 30 years now. Fred Militello opened the first repair shop back in 1972. He's still going strong.

Fred Jr. has joined him in the business, and they're passing along their skills to artisans like Clyde Lawrence, who has been fixing shoes for 25 years. "I like the challenge of taking an old pair of shoes that's really shot and turning them into something new," he says. "And I like the response that we get from the customers when they see what we have done with their shoes."

At one time, the Militellos had nine shops, two of them in New Orleans. But now they have cut back to three locations in Baton Rouge. Fred Jr. explains, "It's hard to keep the quality when you have that many stores. You spread yourself thin."

The Militellos want to keep that personal touch -- hands on, saving soles. According to a recent survey, only 16% of us ever bother to visit the shoe shop. We just toss out the old shoes and buy a new pair. Fred Militello says most of those trashed shoes could be fixed -- at considerable savings.