BERWYN – In his modest shop in Berwyn, Ernesto Moreno repairs soles. Between phone calls and walk-in customers, he moves from place to place like a well-oiled machine, fixing zippers, leather and heels, too. He is the second-generation owner of Moreno’s Shoe Repair in Berwyn.
While a shoe repair shop may seem out of date, Moreno’s garners quite a bit of foot traffic. Moreno can hardly finish a sentence without being interrupted by the bell above the door or the ringing of the phone.
“We do a little bit of everything,” Moreno tells a woman as she approaches the counter.
She hands him her shoes, asking if they can be repaired.
“If it fits in the shop, I can probably do something with it,” Moreno replies.
This is Moreno’s attitude toward his work. Ever optimistic, he enjoys doing “Frankenstein projects,” as he calls them – reinventing items customers bring to him. Functionality is the most important part to him, however, because, “if you can’t walk in it, what’s the point?”
The oldest of four children, Moreno has been working on shoes for as long as he can remember. He grew up in his father’s shoe repair shop, previously located at 2207 Oak Park Ave. Now that his father has retired, Moreno has taken over and the shop has relocated to 3142 S. Oak Park Ave.
“We moved,” he tells a customer on the phone, wearing down his own maroon gym shoes as he paces around the back of the shop. He hangs up the phone, motions to the space around him and continues. “The only thing that’s changed for me is the location.”
Being located in Berwyn for the past 25 years, people in the community have come to know Moreno, sometimes recalling him as a young boy. He said his father is to blame for his passion for working with shoes. That and the fumes, he said.
To make the new space his own, Moreno has decked the walls in his workspace with comic book art. Cover art for “X-Men” and “The Punisher” are among the titles hanging on the walls in the back of the shop. Above the doorway, Moreno’s first dollar is taped over the comics.
“I went a little crazy on the decorating,” Moreno said, running his hand through his black hair with a grin adorning his face. “It keeps me sane though.”
Singer sewing machines and other large machinery accompany the more playful decorations, but these machines are Moreno’s tools. Cranks and levers, sanders and hammers can be seen lying on any given surface, waiting to be used.
As Moreno flicks on the sander to clean up the soles of an old pair of shoes, the floor of the shop vibrates, and a low hum fills the room. He swings between machines and tasks in seconds, checking the sole to make sure it’s smooth.
“That’s what my day consists of — bouncing around from spot to spot like a factory,” Moreno said.
In what Moreno calls a “throw away culture,” shoe repair may not be as common as it once was. Consumers are likely to purchase something for a good deal and simply throw it away when it is no good. Despite this, his business flourishes, relying on higher-end purchases and heirlooms that people would prefer to have repaired than part with.
Moreno doesn’t limit himself to shoes. The shop repairs other items such as backpacks and purses. He said over the years he has learned to do a little bit of everything, not wanting his customers to ever return needing a new repair on the same product.
“It’s in my blood, and I didn’t want to let it go,” Moreno said. “I love that we’ve been in Berwyn so long, and we love it here. The community has been so amazing.”