Waiting for the other shoe to drop: Shoemakers


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    Shoemaker Raúl Ojeda inside his Los Angeles shoe store, Don Ville Shoes.

    - Kai Ryssdal/Marketplace

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    Ojeda opened Don Ville in 2011. Before that, he worked for Willie’s Shoe Service --  a Hollywood institution.

    - Kai Ryssdal/Marketplace

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    The storeroom of Don Ville Shoes.

    - Kai Ryssdal/Marketplace

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    Traditional wooden lasts, which are used to form shoes.

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    A more modern-day tool-of-the-trade.

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    Ojeda at work.

    - Kai Ryssdal/Marketplace

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    The finished product -- Ojeda holds up one of his hand-crafted shoes.

    - Kai Ryssdal/Marketplace

Ever since the Great Recession started more than five years ago, Americans have been paying closer attention to how we bring in a regular paycheck. But the American labor market started changing long before the financial crisis. In the Marketplace series, "Disappearing Jobswe take a look at the changing job market, one profession at a time.


Look down at your shoes. When was the last time you considered how they were made?

Chances are, the ones you're wearing were made overseas -- mass produced in a factory.

So it shouldn't be a surprise that shoemakers here in the U.S. are disappearing. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in the next ten years, there will be 1,400 fewer shoemakers than there are right now.

But in Los Angeles, there's a shop dedicated to making shoes the old-fashioned way -- custom fitted and made to order. It's run by Raúl Ojeda, who opened Don Ville Shoes in 2011.

But how does a young guy decide to get into a trade that's on the way out?

"It has always been almost a passed-down-through-generations thing, more so than something you learn in school," said Ojeda.

He thinks the movement away from that model has hurt others in his generation.

"Our parents decided they were going to work really hard and give us some money to go to school so that we didn't have to work as hard as they did," Ojeda said. "I think that was a big mistake becuase now you have kids of my age who don't know how to do anything. You don't have a lot of craftsmen being trained by their families anymore."

You also don't have a lot of people regularly visiting those crafstmen anymore.

Ojeda is always suprised by how many people who come into his shop say they didn't know shoe repair shops even existed. But Ojeda said customers like that bring lots of potential possibility.

"Before you knew that you could fix your shoes, you would never get them fixed," Ojeda explained. "And now you might actually start to take  care of them."

Ojeda said his five-year plan is to grow. He wants to start a small factory that could make 100 pairs of shoes a month and that would allow him to bring that price per pair down.

"The idea is to really fill everyone with the idea that you can no longer buy shoes from the store," said Ojeda.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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