Kinnard practices what is almost a lost art in Carroll County: shoe repair. There may be only one or two others in the whole region who can put a new sole on an old shoe, and he’s been doing it for 53 years. He can’t stop. Literally.
“I retired when I turned 65 and I sold all my equipment,” says Kinnard, 68. “Then I turned around and bought it back again the next year.”
In fact, Kinnard has tried to retire three times. But whenever he is ready to quit, he finds that there is a demand for his services that keeps him going.
In a disposable culture, repairing things to make them last seems an anachronistic idea. But there is something about shoes that seems to make people want to wrest every ounce of value from them. Especially in bad economic times, when value takes on a sharper meaning.
“Anytime that your economy is bad, the shoe repair business is good; if the economy gets good, the shoe repair business gets bad. (When) The economy is bad, people will drive their cars longer, and same thing with shoes – they will start looking for ways to make their stuff last longer.”
In the South, and probably elsewhere, a brand new pair of shoes is still referred to as “Sunday shoes,” and are worn only to church or on special occasions. Until, that is, they become a little worn, so that a new pair of “Sunday shoes” is bought and the old pair promoted to daily use.
But even when that daily pair gets too worn, some people can’t bring themselves to throw them away. That’s when they go looking for craftsmen like Kinnard.
Although his shop is at his home, Kinnard takes in shoes at a building he owns in Roopville, at 296 Old 27 South. Apart from a few small signs set along the road outside town, he doesn’t advertise. Yet people find him through word of mouth. Each day there is a steady stream of people dropping by looking for the “shoe repairman.”
Most of these customers bring along a pair of shoes for Kinnard to examine. Some shoes have glued-on soles that make them impossible to repair; most, however, can be fixed. And by “fixed” we mean having the sole or heel replaced. Although he is technically a “cobbler,” Kinnard cannot make a pair of shoes or do major repair to a worn upper – even though his skill and experience might lead someone to think otherwise.
The Roopville building opens each morning by 10 a.m., and the shoes can be dropped off or picked up until 6 p.m. Kinnard’s prices are reasonable enough: a half-sole for $35; a half-sole with heels, $45; and a full sole with heels $55. The difference, he says, between a half-sole and a full-sole is just whether the customer wants to pay the extra $10.
“We fix men’s shoes, we fix women’s shoes – we fix anything that can be repaired,” he says. “Mostly what we repair now, we do high-dollar dress shoes and we do high-dollar boots.”
Kinnard started repairing shoes when he was 15 years old, and he learned the trade from his brother, who had a shop in Atlanta. For many years he lived in the metro area. That’s where he met his wife, Shirley, who was originally from west Georgia. Together, they had a shop in the Peachtree Battle Shopping Center and Kinnard supplemented the family’s income by doing electrical work. But he always preferred the shoe repair business.
In 1979, he moved to Carrollton and set up shop under The Squire Shop, back when it was located closer to the courthouse than it is now. He worked in the basement of the store until his first retirement. After the second retirement failed to take, he moved his old equipment into a barn built at his home outside Roopville, and that is where he takes all the wounded shoes and boots he takes in at his building in town.
His small shop is crowded with ancient machines that are hard to find nowadays and very expensive when located. They are also absolutely terrifying when they are running. Some drive a thick awl and thread through a shoe bottom just like a sewing machine, or shoot a small wire into a boot heel like a nail. Then there is a long device called a “finishing line” that shapes soles, grinds heels and sands both like an assembly line. Finally, there is a heated press that twists the soles into a unique shape.
Something most people may not consider is the shape of a sole. The curves and bends that form the bottom of a shoe is the essence of the art of shoe repair, because it is those curves that help a person walk. If they are not shaped correctly, a person may walk pigeon-toed, or stumble, something that Kinnard said is not stressed in the few schools that teach the fading art.
“They got a school they will send you to and it will cost you $4,000, but that guy teaching it doesn’t know what he’s talking about. I’ve seen some of his work. I wouldn’t let him fix my shoes.”
When Kinnard does finally quit for good, Carroll County will still have at least one shoe repairman. Kinnard’s son, who has been repairing shoes since he was 11, expects to take up the business when he retires in a few years from the sheriff’s office.
"He’s good. He’s real good. He’s actually probably better than I am,” the elder Kinnard says.