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Madison Shoe Repair opens on Monroe Street

November 7, 2018 GMT

Michael Benters is good with numbers, balance sheets and other types of financial reports.

But he’s adding stitching, nailing and grinding to his resume.

Benters, who has a business degree from Edgewood College and worked for Summit Credit Union, is getting a crash course on shoe repair and, along with five other family members, has opened a shoe store and repair shop just blocks from his alma mater.

The 1,400-square-foot Madison Shoe Repair & Bootery, 1915 Monroe St., is a mix of modern marketing, stylish displays and old school repair equipment. The store’s opening comes as the number of shoe repair shops in the city has dwindled over the years and just a few weeks before the completion of the Monroe Street reconstruction project that has limited parking and access to businesses along the corridor.

“It’s very walkable and there’s a lot of foot traffic,” said Benters, when asked about the shop’s location. “Our biggest challenge will be just gauging what comes through the door and knowing how to adjust.”

Benters is joined in the venture by his wife Kaitlyn Kirby, her mother and father Ernie and Kathy Kirby, and Kaitlyn’s brothers, Bo and Rusko. The nearly $100,000 projected included redoing the floors of the shop, adding reclaimed lighting and barnwood and building shoe racks out of black pipes. The shoe repair equipment, most of it more than 30 years old and some from the 1950s, was purchased from 3rd Street Leather & Shoe Repair that closed in September after a 12-year run on the city’s East Side.

Benters and the Kirbys, who began planning their business in June, had initially considered just taking over the 3rd Street business but it would have eliminated the retail component to the shop. However the shop’s former owner, Peg Larabell, is tutoring Benters on shoe repair. Benters has also made trips to Dixon, Illinois, where Ernie Kirby owns a shoe repair business and retail store. He also has shoe stores in Moline, Arlington Heights, Schaumburg and West Dundee, Illinois.

The Madison Shoe Repair & Bootery, located in the former space of Karner Blue Candle, features Red Wing Heritage boots that sell for $260 to $330, Vasque hiking boots from $160 to $219 and Lems, a flexible hiking boot made in Boulder, Colorado, that retails for $125. Other shoe brands include Grayers, Carhart and Taylor Stitch along with socks made by Wigwam in Sheboygan and JL the Brand in Charleston, South Carolina.

“If you aren’t zoned in on a specific category or a group of people you’ll definitely run into problems,” said Ernie Kirby, 54. “Picking the brands that we did made it easier for this market.”

When Cecil Burke started Cecil’s Shoe Repair in 1961 there were more than 20 shoe-repair shops in the Madison area. Today there are only a handful. They include Cecil’s, 6717 Odana Rd.; Custom Cobblers’ Heel & Sole Connection, 617 N. Sherman Ave.; Monroe Street Shoe Repair, 2630 Monroe St., Janssen Shoe & Leather Repair, 1216 Williamson St. and Monona Shoe Repair, 4517 Monona Dr., Monona.

Kaitlyn Kirby, 28, and Benters, 30, are Illinois natives and moved to Madison when Benters enrolled at Edgewood College. Benters also worked for two years in a Red Wing shoe store in Brookfield while Ernie Kirby is also a former store director of store operations for Warehouse Shoes in Milwaukee.

“I feel like it’s the best place for a retail store outside of State Street,” said Kaitlyn Kirby, who runs an on-line parenting magazine she founded in 2011 and manages the social media accounts for the shoe shop. “This had the perfect set up.”