The Constant Cobbler

Shoes are one of the few things that most of us will repair. Perhaps it is because we wear them every day that they have sentimental value to us; if a heel is worn down or a sole is shabby, rather than throw the pair out into the trash, we would often opt for a cobbler to fix our shoes. It is a philosophy that Repair Kopitiam would like to extend to other items in the households – things that just need a bit of attention to be made almost new again.

At Repair Kopitiam, shoes are a common item brought in. We’re able to do simple mends like re-glueing soles. For more elaborate repairs, we turn to Pang Seow Kwek, a 63-year old cobbler who plies his trade at Block 425 Jurong West Avenue 1, next to the Repair Kopitiam space.

Mr Pang has been a cobbler for 15 years. Once a shoe worker in a factory, he now assists residents of the area in repairing their shoes, from simple tasks like replacing heels and polishing leather, to more complicated procedures like re-attaching outsoles with wire. Every Tuesday to Thursday, Mr Pang will sit at his usual spot, as people of all walks and ages step up. His is a short day, starting at 1pm and 5.30pm, but it is involved.

“Mostly, a lot of the work I do is quite routine so my fingers almost work automatically, but I take pride in my work, so it still requires a lot of concentration,” Mr Pang says. “I am glad that I still have good eyesight that I can do this, because I like working. I could retire but then, what would I do at home? This way, I keep quite active. Plus, life is expensive here in Singapore, so the extra money helps.”

Fees for Mr Pang’s services start at SG$ 8, and may go into the higher double digits depending on the nature of the repair and the parts required, which he will source himself. A lot of Mr Pang’s customers are old friends, people who have shared the neighbourhood with him for decades, but quite a few are also new faces. He says that he likes having new younger customers, because it shows that the new generation isn’t all wasteful.

“People of my age, the pioneer generation, we keep things and repair things because we know what it was like when we had very little. If our shoes only needed a bit of repair to continue being used, we would do it, because we could not afford to buy a new pair. To see younger people coming up to me makes me a bit happy, because that means that there are young people who are not wasteful and who see the value in repairing. For me, it is about shoes and it keeps me in business. For you people at Repair Kopitiam, it is about more things. That’s good. It is a good idea. If more people wasted less, it would be a very good thing.”