Don Myers has been living the dream for the past 35 years, and now he hopes that it will become someone else’s dream.
Myers has owned the New Shoes shoe repair shop on Main Street for 3 ½ decades; his lease is up at the end of the year and he wants to retire, but rather than just close the business, his goal is to find someone to take it over and keep it going.
For Myers, it isn’t just about repairing expensive designer shoes, which he does, but also about helping countless people who need orthotics or shoes adapted to fit their physical needs or filling physicians’ orthopedic prescriptions or modifying braces for people with polio.
“Tigard needs this business to stay open,” Myers said.
However, the work has taken a toll on his body, with Myers noting, “I’ve had hip and knee surgeries, and I only have two working fingers on each hand.”
Over the years he has developed Dupuytren’s contracture, a condition that causes the connective tissue under the skin of the palm to thicken and become scar-like. The thickened tissue forces several fingers – usually the ring and pinky fingers – to curl in toward the palm.
Holding up his crumpled fingers, Myers said he plans to have surgery on them (again) once he has retired from the store.
Myers’ career in working on shoes started young. His father was in the military for 21 years, “and my dad had me shine all his shoes,” Myers said. His dad taught him auto repair, and at Sunset High School in Beaverton, Myers took woodshop classes, so by the time he graduated, he knew his way around machinery.
Myers went to work at Fred Meyer as a produce clerk but after being injured, he found himself standing in line to receive food stamps in Hillsboro. After he was denied, he walked out the door, and the first business on the right was a shoe repair shop.
Myers said, “I decided that would be my occupation, and I found the best shoe repair store in the Portland area,” which was Vaneck’s Shoe Repair in Beaverton. “A brother-in-law in the family had a shop in Cedar Hills, and I put on a suit and tie and showed up every day for three weeks and talked to him.
“He finally said, ‘You’re not going to go away, are you? Did you bring your work clothes?’”
Myers apprenticed for him for five years, noting that the two-man, 800-square-foot shop took in $180,000 per year.
“We put on a show for the customers,” he said. “We juggled shoes and tossed them back and forth.”
When it was time for Myers to go out on his own, “I didn’t want to be a competitor to my only mentor,” he said. “I had family on the coast so I bought a shoe repair store in Astoria. I walked into the store and said, ‘Do you want to sell?’ The owner wanted $14,000, but I offered $9,000 cash, and he took it. I closed it for 1 ½ months to remodel it.
“I ran it for six years, but by then I was almost 30, I had a wife and two kids, and Astoria wasn’t growing.”
Myers came up with the idea of bringing shoe repair services to dry cleaners. He tested his prototype concept in Seaside and Ilwaco, Wash. He then created a prospectus and sent out 24 of them to Portland area dry-cleaners, selling two dozen locations immediately. They received a percentage of the profit from the shoe repairs, and www.newshoes.com was born.
“I moved the family to Tigard but still had my equipment in Astoria,” Myers said. “My wife handled pick-up and delivery, and I ran bags of shoes by bus to Astoria to repair them.”
That gave him his start in the Portland area and led him to open New Shoes in a former yarn shop on Main Street in Tigard.
Myers got a contract with Nordstrom to repair the shoes that customers brought in. “For six years I would pick up and deliver shoes to customers. It was a way to keep New Shoes alive,” he said, adding, “When you are working on a $1,000 pair of shoes, you don’t make mistakes.”
Myers also started a program with Union Gospel Mission to bring “shoes to the shoe-less” by setting out barrels to collect shoes. “We got 1,400 pairs the first round,” he said. “I did that for four or five years. There was such a need.”
New Shoes grew over the years, and while Myers has enjoyed the view of Main Street from the shop, it hasn’t all been positive experiences. In 2017 he was assaulted by a young man in front of the Tigard Transit Center that left him with fractured ribs and his wrist broken in four places along with some broken fingers.
But the business has its fun side too. Myers is a proud member of the Shoe Service Institute of America, which is the trade organization for the shoe repair industry and holds an annual convention and competitions with prizes awarded. In fact, Myers has a wall full of awards and trophies he has won.
“In 1996 I entered 16 of 18 categories at the convention in Baltimore,” said Myers, who is most proud of the Bronze Cup he won in 2015 for taking third place for repairing a sharkskin shoe in SSIA’s World Cup contest. Winning entries must look brand new, and contestants submit a repaired shoe along with its un-repaired mate.
In front of the trophy wall is an elaborate set of drums, reflecting another of Myers’ talents. “I’ve been drumming since I was 4 years old,” he said. After playing for years, he stopped for 40 years until picking up the drum sticks four or five years ago. “I put together a set from pawn shops and play with a band,” he said.
Myers calls his 1,380-square-foot shop in Tigard with 10 to 15 key machines “a magical place.” His dream is to find a group who wants to buy it to keep the business going.
“I will train and stick around, but I can’t continue working,” he said. “I want to see my legacy continue, and I will teach my trade so what I have devoted my life to will remain in Tigard. I think in my heart that someone will come out of woodwork. I can’t let a business of this caliber die. My story is unique. I’ve lived it. Now I want to share it.”
Myers has been involved in city programs and activities, but one frustration is that the north end of Main Street, from the railroad tracks to Scoffins, still has not been improved like the south end and Burnham Street.
The city’s principal engineer, Andy Newbury, told Tigard Life about the plans for that section of the street, saying, “Phase 2 improvements will look a lot like phase 1. We are expected to get through the design phase by end of this year. The project will then be placed out for construction bid, and we expect construction to start early spring 2021 and end early spring 2022.”
New Shoes Shoe Repair is located at 12255 SW Main St.; the phone number is 503-684-2497.