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STEVE CHIOTAKIS: It wasn’t that long ago Northwest Plaza
Mall in suburban St. Louis was bustling with more than 200 stores. Today only one remains — one. And when Mike Bartel closes his one-man shoe repair shop within days, Northwest Plaza will officially die.
St. Louis Public Radio’s Adam Allington produced a profile of this one last mall holdout.
MIKE BARTEL: One of the things that we do just about every day is replace heels on men’s and women’s shoes. Here is a pair of men’s shoes. My name is Mike Bartel and I’m the proprietor of Heel/Sew Quik at Northwest Plaza.
BARTEL: Northwest Plaza Mall used to be the largest mall in the area. There were busloads of people that would come in from Illinois and other parts of Missouri and it was a weekend trip for a lot of people. They would come in and do all of their shopping here.
BARTEL: Here is a pair of men’s shoes, as you can see they’re worn down. So what I’m going to do is just take off the old heel or the old part of the heel.
BARTEL: One thing led to another, the loss of some of the jobs — the airlines, the Ford Motor Company. And these were pretty much our core customer group. They just, the stores started to fall off, one by one, kind of like leaves falling off of a tree in the fall, it just happened. You know one day, there they are and the next day there they aren’t.
Shoe hammer tapping sounds
BARTEL: Now I look down the mall corridors and I see absolutely nothing because all of the stores are closed. It’s not frightening but it’s a little disconcerting to be all by myself.
BARTEL: Hello. Can I help you?
ELMER KLEIN: I came out to get some work done, not too much work, just liners in my shoes.
BARTEL: Well lets see what you have there.
KLEIN: Are you going to retire Mike?
BARTEL: Yes I am, I’m going to live the good life. I’m very glad you dropped by. I know life will be good for you, after you get those shoes fixed.
BARTEL: When your feet don’t hurt you’re in good shape.
KLEIN: Yeah, such a shame.
BARTEL: Take care, sir.
CHIOTAKIS: See photos of Northwest Plaza, good days and not so good.
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