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Shoe repairman bares his sole

Jose Valdez is the sole shoe repairman in Pahrump since coming out of retirement and opening his shop six-and-a-half years ago on Frontage Road.

After retiring from his lucrative shoe repair business of 33 years in Scottsdale, Arizona, Valdez moved to Pahrump 10 years ago, but his retirement plans changed.

“I came out of retirement because the economy took a dump,” he said.

Also, some family members, including his grandchildren and great grandchildren, came to live with him and he wanted to help them.

It seems that Valdez cannot walk away from shoe repair, a trade that he stepped into by accident, literally.

Valdez always wanted to be a truck driver and got that opportunity shortly after he graduated from high school in 1962 in Oklahoma.

He accepted the job as a truck driver hauling wheat and other cargo in Gila Bend, Arizona.

While helping to service trucks containing hay inside a barn, Valdez suffered burns covering 50 percent of his body from the waist up when a welder’s spark ignited butane fumes causing a massive explosion.

“It was a miracle; I am very lucky I’m here, or I’m lucky I’m not disabled,” Valdez said.

He was off work for eight months and moved back to Oklahoma to recuperate.

Doctors advised him to never work outside in the sun due to his burns, so he needed for find an indoor occupation.

Valdez’s big break came from a neighbor who offered to train him for a job in his shoe repair shop in Oklahoma City, which was about 150 miles from where Valdez was living.

After only two weeks in training, Valdez’s mentor gave him the key to the shop and told him that he would be opening the shop on Monday morning.

Valdez expected his boss to show up, but he didn’t until a month later, after taking off to get married, leaving his trainee to fend for himself.

Valdez learned most of the techniques for shoe repair on his own since his boss abandoned the shop, but Valdez was a natural and told the owner.

“He said ‘how do you like shoe repair’. I said ‘it stuck to me like band-aids’,” Valdez laughed.

Valdez eventually left that shop, moved back to Arizona and opened his own shoe repair business.

“It’s a good trade if you want to make it good, if you want to make a living at it,” he said.

Valdez said many people may think if they can make good money in shoe repair, they’ll want to get a shop and do the same thing.

“But, they forget, ‘hey, first I’ve got to know what I’m doing’,” he laughed.

He is not a shoemaker who makes shoes from scratch, even though he has that skill.

“I can be, but I don’t want to be,” Valdez added.

Also, he doesn’t like to be called a “shoe cobbler”.

“The definition for a shoe cobbler is a person that cuts corners a lot instead of fixing the shoe the right way, they’ll cut corners just to get it out of here,” Valdez said. “My dad always taught me if you’re going to do anything, do it right the first time, or don’t do it at all because then it’s going to come back on you.”

He is the first one in the family to work in shoe repair, and taught his youngest brother and three nephews the trade. Currently, Valdez and his brother in the Phoenix area, are the only ones who continued in the business.

Valdez has been trying to sell the shop for almost a year to someone who knows how to repair shoes, or is willing to learn. He would like to see more young people learn the trade, and he may have found a match, once again, in his own family.

His grandson Steve Aaron Venegas, 22, of Pahrump, recently took an interest in shoe repair and started training with his grandfather, or “Tata,” (grandpa in Spanish) as he calls him.

“I have a family now, and I want to take care of my family like my grandpa has,” Venegas said.

Adding that he has seen what his grandfather has done over the years.

“He’s always been there for me so I feel like I can do something more, you know, I can help out more than I am now.”

“Shoe repair, it’s a dying trade; everybody’s been saying that, you know, and it’s true,” Venegas said.

Venegas has been training with his grandfather for several weeks in between his shifts working at Burger King.

Growing up as a kid in Scottsdale, Venegas and his cousin would go to their grandfather’s shop on weekends and spend time there.

Valdez said the first thing Venegas and the other grandchildren learned about shoe repair was cleaning the machines.

He said so far, his grandson-student is doing well.

“Like I said, he’s been around it all his life, so he has an idea of what I’m going to be telling him.”

“Oh, I like it, it’s fun. I’m having fun,” Venegas laughed. “The soles are just a little bit complicated for me right now, but I’ll get it.”

Valdez proudly displayed what his grandson had accomplished in one morning, taking heels off shoes and boots and putting new ones back on.

“And I’m trying to teach him how to make them smoother,” Valdez said. “I mean, he sands them down nicely enough that it would pass, but I want it smoother. I want him to learn it to where the customer is going to appreciate it, and then they will be a repeat customer.”

Valdez said he would most definitely like to see his grandson take over the shop after being fully trained in about six months, and then the shop may not be sold. Even if Valdez decides to sell, he would make a provision for the buyer to keep Venegas on board.

Venegas said he could teach any new buyers/employees what he has learned from his grandfather and pass it on.

Another family tie is Valdez’s granddaughter Angelina Valdez, who comes in the shop during the summer and over school breaks to help.

“She’s knows how to run my register, totally,” Valdez said.

He operates a full-service shop for shoe, boot, sneaker and sandal repairs. Valdez can also make and repair belts, handbags or other leather items, and he even cuts keys.

“I can do whatever it takes to do a pair of shoes; I can fix it unless it’s too far gone,” he stated.

Even if you do not need a pair of shoes fixed, dyed or polished, a visit to the shop is like a trip to a sports museum with autographed photos and memorabilia from sports figures Valdez has met through his trade.

The late New York Yankees pitcher Vernon “Lefty” Gomez used to visit his shop every year during spring training in Scottsdale, and Valdez used to polish football helmets for the New York Giants, who were also there.

His “wall of fame” includes an autographed photo of retired left-handed pitcher Randy Johnson, who played for several baseball teams, including the Arizona Diamondbacks which reads, “To Jose, thank-you for the great work on my gloves” since he did work on Johnson’s gloves and fixed travel baggage and equipment for the team.

Admitting that he used to do some boxing, himself, Valdez got to meet boxing greats Roberto Duran, Sugar Ray Leonard and the late Muhammad Ali.

Valdez said there are still many people in Pahrump who do not realize he is in town, as the only shoe repair shop.

If you are looking for a holiday gift idea, Valdez still has one pair of unisex denim boots, size 8D, which he described as one of a kind, handmade by him for $400.

Valdez Shoe Repair is located at 361 S. Frontage Road, Suite 5 and is open Tuesday-Friday 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Phone 775-727-1133.

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