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Posted on Wed, Dec 29, 2010 : 2:31 p.m.

'A dying art': College Shoe Repair closes Dec. 31 after 7 decades in downtown Ann Arbor

By Paula Gardner


Dorothy Brown and her children, Dale Ann Camfield and Pat Brown, will be closing their family's College Shoe Repair on East William on Dec. 31.

Lon Horwedel |

College Shoe Repair opened in Ann Arbor during the Great Depression because the owners couldn’t foresee a world without the need to fix shoes.

Today, massive changes in the industry have finally touched the local business. College Shoe Repair, located on East William near South State, will close on Dec. 31.

“There’s not enough shoe repair (work) to keep us going,” said owner Dorothy Brown.

The use of plastics in mass market shoe manufacturing is one reason. Another is the local and online competition in the other aspect of College Shoe Repair’s business: hockey equipment.

The closing accompanies significant change for both the family, which also lives in Ann Arbor, and the building that houses the store.

Brown’s husband, Bill, died on July 4, and she’s been spending some of her time at meetings for widows run by Arbor Hospice.

Her daughter, Dale Ann Camfield, who has worked at the store’s counter and made many purse repairs for customers, has started looking for a new job.

Pat Brown, her son, is the last of what once totaled three people who did shoe repairs in the store before business tapered off. He’ll soon start work at the new Advantage Sports store on West Stadium, continuing to sharpen skates.

And the building, which also houses the White Market, was listed for sale this year. A deal is in the works, Brown said, with an undisclosed buyer.

“We hope it’ll close the first of January,” she said.


Pat Brown searches for a piece of leather at his work station at College Shoe Repair, where business once was robust enough to employ three repair experts.

Lon Horwedel |

The shoe repair business was started by Bill Brown’s father and grandfather during the Great Depression.

“They figured that people would always need shoes fixed,” Dorothy Brown said. “But they didn’t foresee plastic.”

Rich Bellas, owner of Van Boven Shoes around the corner in Nickels Arcade, calls the business “a dying art.”

Van Boven also dates back to the 1930s, Bellas said, “and we’ve done business with them for as long as I can remember.”

Bellas praised the work done at Campus Shoe Repair, and noted that the transitions in the industry mean less choice for customers.

One trend is the move toward cheaper materials, which lessens the ability and need to make repairs. But some manufacturers also are offering repair service in their own manufacturing centers, Bellas said, shaking up the foundation of any local shoe repair business.

One remains in downtown Ann Arbor: Park Shoe Repair on North Fourth Avenue. Another, Town Cobbler, operates at Briarwood Mall.

“Shoe repair would be a difficult niche to continue,” Bellas said. “But it’s one more service in the community that you hate to lose.”

As Brown considers her future once the store closes, she knows her days will be much different. She’s considering volunteer work, and also may get a dog, she said.

Customers are telling Brown that they’re sorry to see the store close.

“We’re sorry, too,” she said.

Paula Gardner is Business News Director of Contact her at 734-623-2586 or by email. Sign up for the weekly Business Review newsletter, distributed every Thursday, here.



Tue, Jan 11, 2011 : 9:44 p.m.

Dear Dot, Pat and Dale, So sorry to hear the "shop" is closing" and happy to hear you have a buyer!! I have fond memories of working there as a teenager more then 35 years ago bagging shoes and waiting on customers... where has all the time gone? Your dad was always the brick and mortar that held it all together! May the cobblers in heaven delight in his craft and welcome a master! You are a very special family and I wish you all the best as you transition to new endeavors and seek new opportunities. You all hold a special place in my heart! BFF's we'll always be. With love, "Southfield Sue"


Sun, Jan 2, 2011 : 9:42 a.m.

Best in the future to the Brown Family ~ please accept the ALWAYS THERE FOR THE COMMUNITY AWARD and know how special you are to many of us in town!


Fri, Dec 31, 2010 : 10:31 a.m.

This may be late as the last comment was posted 10 hours ago and that usually means the piece will be deleted as soon as I post mine, but anyway: This shop was tthe one who attached my new clogging taps to my shoes years ago. They were perfectly done; there were never any nail scrapes in the floors I danced on. You will be missed.

Janet Muhleman

Thu, Dec 30, 2010 : 10:08 a.m.

CSR and the Brown family were an integral part of the experience of having a child who played hockey. Pat helped fit my son with his first pair of skates and equipment and the many subsequent ones he needed as he grew out of them. Going to the CSR basement was a much enjoyed ritual. They were part of what made Ann Arbor special. Thank you for your help and fond memories and good luck in your future endeavors.


Thu, Dec 30, 2010 : 9:47 a.m.

@A2lover "Although it's a shame another stalwart Ann Arbor store is closing, the service has deteriorated over recent years. I can understand that shoe repair is a dying art, due modern technology in materials, but shoddy, incomplete work may have contributed to the closing." With 34 comments and only one of them (yours) had a bad word to say about CSR I think its safe to say "shoddy, incomplete work" was not a contributing factor in the closing.


Thu, Dec 30, 2010 : 8:35 a.m.

Many thanks to CSR for years of fine service and assistance. We will miss them.


Thu, Dec 30, 2010 : 7:47 a.m.

Best of luck to the Browns. I've known many of them for years and they're very, very good people.


Thu, Dec 30, 2010 : 7:31 a.m.

Although it's a shame another stalwart Ann Arbor store is closing, the service has deteriorated over recent years. I can understand that shoe repair is a dying art, due modern technology in materials, but shoddy, incomplete work may have contributed to the closing. Anyway, it is a pity they are closing, poor service can be repaired, plastic and online competition have no need of repair.


Thu, Dec 30, 2010 : 7:23 a.m.

My Johnston Murphy's are on their third sole, all done at this wonderful shop. Good shoes don't need repair all that often. Perhaps one of the reasons for the decline. We wish you guys well. Like others above, I wish I had a little more notice. I've a few pairs of shoes that could need some work.


Thu, Dec 30, 2010 : 1:33 a.m.

when i was growing up the town i lived in and live in now had at least 3 shoe repair businesses now the is sort of a part time one left. there was no one to take over when the original owner left,retired,or died.then there is the cost factor.soles and heels would cost almost as much as a new pair of shoes. the import shoes factor.what it comes down to is it's a part of our daily life w3hether we choose to admit it and whether we like it or not. ask yourself how much do we buy that isn't made in whole or in part somewhere else?excluding food my answer would be very little.


Wed, Dec 29, 2010 : 11:42 p.m.

I have had my skates sharpened at College Shoe for over 30 years and never had a bad edge. I also purchased hockey gear, skates and sticks from Pat. The entire Brown family has always been very generous and helpful with providing excellent service to me and other folks I know. I'll sorely miss the place and the classic ambiance, the squeaky wooden floor, the smell of polished leather and the classic jerseys hanging on the wall. I'll be at Pat's new location with skates in hand for sure.

A Dexter Person

Wed, Dec 29, 2010 : 10:38 p.m.

This is another sign of the times. The skilled craftsman, who was able to make a good living and raise a family on his earnings and who taught his trade and skills to the next generation in the family, going by the wayside like the buggy-whip maker. Today's consumer has the mind-set of throwing away what's old or broke and buying new instead. All the skilled craftsmen will become extinct before we know it. Just like the upholsterer, another dying trade. Why reupholster an old sofa when stores like Art Van sells new sofas for a couple hundred dollars? Never mind that the new and cheaper version will only last a few years...if you're lucky. We should be supporting our own skilled community members, not the importers of cheap goods.


Wed, Dec 29, 2010 : 10:08 p.m.

I'm sad to see this trade go the way of the dodo, but there are still very good craftspeople out there if you are intent on finding them. There has been mention made of Rapid Shoe Fix and Park Shoe Repair -- I have had excellent experiences with both, in the past and now that they are related somehow, haven't quite figured that out. Another option is Mr. Cho in South Lyon, who is a magician with leather, especially saddlery and any horse related equipment. He saved my most beloved boots from the trash heap. I know how to get there but can't tell you the name of the place, sorry!


Wed, Dec 29, 2010 : 9:31 p.m.

CSR is great and I've always appreciated my interactions with Ms. Brown and Pat. Very kind, down to earth local business people. A reason it's good to support local businesses. Pat, I've enjoyed out conversations about hockey and, at the passing of your father this past year, about God's sovereignty in all things. I'll continue to pray for you and the family. As for my Vapors (which you sold me!), neither the Cube or Play It Again could ever sharpen them like you, Pat. See you at Advantage!


Wed, Dec 29, 2010 : 8:54 p.m.

Dot, Dale and Pat, Lots of memories to reflect on. Looking forward to the new adventures in your future.... Tom E from Seattle.

Coach Goffee

Wed, Dec 29, 2010 : 8:24 p.m.

College Shoe Repair will truly be missed. I have taken baseball gloves there for years to be repaired, especially catchers mitts. Pat is the master. I wish him, Dale and Mom Brown the best. They are good Ann Arborites that made this town great.


Wed, Dec 29, 2010 : 8:18 p.m.

I remember College Shoe Repair in the 1970's and used them extensively for decades, always helpful, honest and reasonably priced. One more example of a nice family business, a mom and pop shop, going down due to cheap imports. Fine leather shoes with leather soles are harder to find and have become excessively expensive, and quality shoes have been replaced by cheap plastic imported junk sold in big box stores, shoes that cannot be repaired. Really too bad. Landfills get filled with yet more trash and discards, and families lose the ability to make a living in a family business. Corporate America strikes again! Keep those cheap imports coming!


Wed, Dec 29, 2010 : 6:37 p.m.

When can we get back to "Made in the United States?" When will we say enough of this China junk and return to keeping our money as ours? A honest U.S. blue collar job has been traded by corporate America for slavery of people in need. All so someone can save a dollar and shop at Walmart. I digress.


Wed, Dec 29, 2010 : 5:56 p.m.

I have used College Shoe Repair since the 60's when I came to AA/UM for school. Not only could they fix anything, they did it well....their repairs lasted. I once brought in a new pair of shoes that had a hollow sound in the heel as I walked, and rather than return them, I was willing to pay CSR to make them be what the manufacturer should have done in the first place. CSR, you will be missed.


Wed, Dec 29, 2010 : 5:48 p.m.

Another mom and pop shop gone to change and big china mass market shoes. Good luck to the original proprietors. I will miss seeing their signage out front when I drive by.


Wed, Dec 29, 2010 : 5:25 p.m.

"I wonder if there is anyway, especially for a business that has been operating as long as they have that we might have learned about this earlier than 2 days before closing. I have several boots and shoes I wanted to bring in but because I'm away for the holidays I will not be able to. Plus, maybe some people would have come in "one last time" to have things repaired and pay their respects. I've loved that store since I was a kid. This is a big loss." Agreed, Sanddunes. If we had only known sooner...there are several pair here ready for CSR's unequaled handiwork; it would have been easy to get them across town a little sooner than originally planned. And it's likely their customers would have paid a little extra if given the chance. If they could bottle the scent as well...classic.

Susan Falcone

Wed, Dec 29, 2010 : 4:43 p.m.

I worked at the shoe repair during my college years and have fond memories of that time.


Wed, Dec 29, 2010 : 4:40 p.m.

Does a shoe repair business require a brick and mortar storefront these days? Maybe there's a new opportunity out there for these great craftspeople?


Wed, Dec 29, 2010 : 4:24 p.m.

Another sad effect of a disposable culture. Used to be able to buy a very good pair of shoes or boots and wear them for 10 years. It was cheaper than replacing them, but cobblers were common.


Wed, Dec 29, 2010 : 4:16 p.m.

I wonder if there is anyway, especially for a business that has been operating as long as they have that we might have learned about this earlier than 2 days before closing. I have several boots and shoes I wanted to bring in but because I'm away for the holidays I will not be able to. Plus, maybe some people would have come in "one last time" to have things repaired and pay their respects. I've loved that store since I was a kid. This is a big loss.


Wed, Dec 29, 2010 : 4:04 p.m.

What a shame. I've gone there for years to get heels replaced and my daughter's boots polished (for $5 -- how can you beat that?) and other random small tasks. It is true that fewer and fewer things can be done for even pricey shoes with the Nike AirWalk soles or whatever.


Wed, Dec 29, 2010 : 3:54 p.m.

I will be sad to see them go. I always knew I could rely on them for any fixes that I needed. I wish them all the best. (And please accept my condolences on the passing of Bill Brown).


Wed, Dec 29, 2010 : 3:53 p.m.

You WILL NOT find any business in Ann Arbor that has been more loyal to its customers and the high schools than this family! Best of Luck


Wed, Dec 29, 2010 : 3:43 p.m.

I've known the family for years and they are good, hardworking folks. They could fix anything; shoes, skates, purses, goalie pads, boots, etc. and at a fair price. I wish them all well and hope the sale of the store goes smoothly.

Holly Owens

Wed, Dec 29, 2010 : 3:29 p.m.

I'm so sorry to see College Shoe Repair go, but I'm happy the Brown/Camfield families have found a buyer for their building. We've enjoyed doing business with College Shoe Repair for many years as a family, and my husband remembers many years before that, as he grew up in AA and did business at CSR. We wish you all the best in the future.


Wed, Dec 29, 2010 : 3:26 p.m.

Well I think the one on Pearl st in Ypsi is still open


Wed, Dec 29, 2010 : 3:20 p.m.

Very sad. I enjoyed going there, this sandal fixed, that hockey skate sewn. Too bad.


Wed, Dec 29, 2010 : 3:11 p.m.

I'm sorry to see this business go. It's hard to find a place to repair expensive riding boots. The staff was always friendly...They did great work!


Wed, Dec 29, 2010 : 3:03 p.m.

Really too bad. What a Croc... Get it, Croc!


Wed, Dec 29, 2010 : 3:03 p.m.

I've always had great service and more than fair pricing at CSR. Over the years they've sharpened my brother's skates, repaired our family's shoes and even did a perfect custom dye job for my wedding shoes. Best of luck to the family and thank you for years of great work!


Wed, Dec 29, 2010 : 2:56 p.m.

who is the current building owner and who is the prospective buyer?


Wed, Dec 29, 2010 : 2:54 p.m.

With price being the main consideration in all goods it's cheaper to get new landfill footwear than to repair.