Mihail “Mike” Papadimitriou, 90, owner of People’s Shoe Repair, is retiring after more than 50 years in the business started in Everett by his uncle in 1934. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Mihail “Mike” Papadimitriou, 90, owner of People’s Shoe Repair, is retiring after more than 50 years in the business started in Everett by his uncle in 1934. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Purchase Photo

Greek cobbler at People’s Shoe Repair has left the building

Mike Papadimitriou, 90, closed the shop his uncle started in 1934. He’s retiring, and will be missed.

He’s 90, and he’s done saving soles.

What’s up with that?

Mihail “Mike” Papadimitriou, owner of People’s Shoe Repair, is closing his shop at 2827 Wetmore Ave. in Everett.

Tuesday is the final day. Stop by from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. to shoot the breeze one last time.

The silver-haired gentleman with high waisted trousers, a thick Greek accent and extra-wide grin has been a downtown figure for decades at the repair shop started by his uncle in 1934.

“Everybody knows me,” he said.

He always wears a jacket and tie.

After he was featured in this column space in 2017, I received more nice calls and emails about him than anyone in my decades as a reporter. Not only about his genuine kindness and humor but also testimonials to his orthopedic talent. He mended shoes and people with problem feet.

Papadimitriou was a savior of shoes in an era where most don’t get a second chance, but only then if he determined they deserved it. He turned away as many shoes as he resurrected from near-death. He knew when it was DOA.

He snubbed cheap shoes.

“No good. These are plastic. Nothing you can do about it,” he’d often say.

Then he’d change the subject to something other than shoes. He’d hand you a water bottle and invite you to have a seat.

While not all shoes rated his time and affection, people always did. The “people” in People’s Shoe Repair were his focus as much as his craft.

He took over his uncle’s Everett shop in 1968, a year after coming from Greece where he learned to make and repair shoes.

“His orthopedic skills are what brought him to the U.S.,” his daughter, Nikki, said. “Scoop Jackson helped him with his immigration because of his skill and he had a job lined up.”

In Everett he met and married Dona, a travel agent who died in 2013. Nikki, 45, grew up coming to the shop, which was a block away on Rockefeller Avenue before moving to the Wetmore site in 1987.

Nothing much has changed since in the dusty, narrow shop with a big picture window and the heady aroma of polish and leather. Step inside and step back in time.

Papadimitriou said last week that it wasn’t his idea to retire, even at 90.

“Doctor’s orders,” Nikki said. “I don’t want him to close, but it’s time.”

He had a fall over Memorial Day weekend. He can’t safely operate the massive hands-on contraption that trims, burnishes, polishes, sands and grinds.

Later this week, his daughter is taking him to live with her and his grandkids in North Carolina.

“We wanted him to move with us when we moved four years ago and he said ‘no, no, no,’ ” Nikki said.

Artist Elizabeth Person did this drawing for her Sketchy Everett series in 2016 and wrote this statement: “A few years ago, I stumbled upon an unassuming repair shop in downtown Everett. I was greeted by blaring classical music, framed presidential portraits, stacks of newspaper paper, and rows upon rows of gleaming shoes. It’s all done the old-fashioned way. On foot, in hand, by word of mouth.”

Artist Elizabeth Person did this drawing for her Sketchy Everett series in 2016 and wrote this statement: “A few years ago, I stumbled upon an unassuming repair shop in downtown Everett. I was greeted by blaring classical music, framed presidential portraits, stacks of newspaper paper, and rows upon rows of gleaming shoes. It’s all done the old-fashioned way. On foot, in hand, by word of mouth.”

Papadimitriou didn’t want to leave his business and the customers who were his friends.

He spent much of his time in front of the counter. The waiting area has chairs and his big wooden desk, with a cassette boombox of classical music and stacks of books. His presence is more professor than cobbler.

He likes to talk — chitchat, politics, philosophy.

“Everybody, man or woman, is born with a smile,” he said. “If you don’t smile, no good.”

A wall of portraits of Dwight Eisenhower, Abraham Lincoln, Bill Clinton and Rep. Rick Larsen stare across the room at the watercolors given to him by artist Bernie Webber. Those are coming with him to North Carolina.

He didn’t take credit cards. He had only three bad checks in 52 years.

“I have good customers,” he said.

He mended handbags, holsters and belts on an antique hand-operated sewing machine.

Every item got a handwritten ticket. He changed the color every year. Those not picked up were donated to the thrift shop run by Domestic Violence Services of Snohomish County.

“I give it to them so they can sell and make money for women,” he said.

Bob Strickland relied on Papadimitriou for lifts in his shoes due to one leg being shorter than the other. Not only street shoes, but also his professional bowling shoes.

“He had an appreciation of what bowlers needed,” Strickland said. “He could repair a shoe that’s pretty badly beaten up.”

Mike Papadimitriou, owner People’s Shoe Repair, holds up a leopard print high held shoe left behind by a customer in this photo taken in 2017. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Mike Papadimitriou, owner People’s Shoe Repair, holds up a leopard print high held shoe left behind by a customer in this photo taken in 2017. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Wendy Einarsson stopped by last week to get her black boots that he said weren’t worth fixing. He’d saved other pairs over the years.

“I had an Italian leather boot strap come off and he did a beautiful job and he didn’t want to charge me but I gave him money anyway,” she said.

Papadimitriou was more likely to hand people a water bottle than a bill.

“I’m sorry you are closing,” she told him.

The average person has about 20 pairs of shoes. Papadimitriou owns about six.

“I love people,” he said. “I don’t love shoes.”

Andrea Brown: abrown@heraldnet.com; 425-339-3443. Twitter @reporterbrown.

Contact the cobbler

Customers who need to pick up shoes or want to send a message to Mike Papadimitriou can email: peoplesshoerepair@gmail.com.

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