Bob Reineberg may not remember every customer’s name, but he remembers their shoes.
As the owner of Reineberg’s Shoes & Shoe Repair in Springettsbury Township, which was passed down from generation to generation to generation to generation, one might say the ability was stitched into his DNA.
“It’s in my blood,” said Reineberg, 69, a great-grandson of Edward Reineberg, the man who founded the business in 1877 in downtown York.
After celebrating 141 years in business in March, Reineberg’s is closing its doors. Located at 1031 Haines Road in Springettsbury Township, it has been run since the 1970s by Bob Reineberg and his wife, Bonnie.
The couple’s children have careers of their own – a daughter in Colorado and a son in Virginia – and with their lease expiring in February, the couple decided it was time to retire.
Over his decades in the business, Bob Reineberg has seen many changes: changes in the product, the industry and the consumer. Nowadays, fewer consumers are taking the time for a shoe fitting and consultation with a local retailer. And more and more consumers are seeking out discount shoe store chains or online retailers with speedy delivery services.
But people still need their shoes fixed occasionally.
Since announcing the closure of the store, the shoe-repair business has been booked pretty solid, said Reineberg. While the business offers stitching and shining services, the majority of the repairs as of late have include heel and tip replacements for ladies’ pumps.
Shoe-repair businesses were once plentiful. But only a handful are left, said Bob Reineberg. Besides his business, York County’s only other shoe-repair business is Contino’s Shoes & Repair in Dallastown. Contino’s was founded in 1926 and is now operated by a third-generation owner.
One of the area’s other former shoe-repair owners – 93-year-old Liborio “Buddy” Butera of Butera’s Shoe Repair – has been working in Reineberg’s shop one day a week repairing shoes since Butera’s shop closed in the late 1980s.
It’s not just repair shops that have taken a hit. Greg Baum of Spring Garden Township’s Flying Feet Sport Shoes has felt the impact of the shifting shoe market.
Baum founded his business in 1982. The then-coach found it difficult to outfit athletes with quality footwear. When the business started, he only offered running shoes. Since then, he has expanded to offer footwear catering to other sports like softball, soccer and cheerleading. But with manufacturers providing products directly to the consumer, he’s had to reevaluate his offerings.
When new products were introduced in the past, manufacturers sent them to independent retailers.
“We were the ‘darlings’ of manufacturers,” he said. “Now that role has been reversed. Consumers can get customized colors online that we can’t get in the store. Consumers get first dibs.”
Baum has stopped providing basketball shoes, for example, because popular brands like Nike have catered more to fashion with products like Air Jordans, which were created for professional athlete Michael Jordan.
“It’s sad to see Bob close. I’m the oldest of five kids and we all went to places like Reineberg’s. My kids and grandkids all got fitted at Reineberg’s,” he said. “I think there will always be a place for businesses like ours, I just don’t know how important we’ll continue to be.”
Another shoe business is Jumper’s Shoe Service in Mechanicsburg, which was founded in 1936 and is run by second-generation owner, Roger Jumper Sr. with the help of his brother, Scott. Roger’s daughter, Kari, also helps out. In addition to stitching, shining, and sole and heel repair, Jumper’s repairs leather products like belts, pocketbooks and baseball gloves.
“There’s a lot less shops than there used to be, but there’s still a need,” said Roger Jumper.
An eye on customers
For those navigating the waters of an evolving industry like shoe repair stores, it’s important to watch the customer base, said James R. Sanders, immediate past chapter chair of Susquehanna SCORE, the York-based chapter of the national business-mentorship organization.
“They will give you clues long before the change actually occurs. In essence, you are trying to provide solutions to your customer’s problems,” he said. “The faster that you can anticipate and implement a solution, the less prone you will be to becoming a casualty of a dying industry.”
To make that assessment, Sanders suggests thoroughly vetting the business venture within a team of trusted advisors, such as an attorney, accountant, a mentor or whoever can provide solid objective feedback. He also suggests trying to avoid a long-term commitment with any new venture and to plan an exit strategy and what key events or circumstances would trigger it. A person often can become enamored with the upside of a venture and minimize or ignore the downside, said Sanders.
“It is easy to get excited about the upside potential of a risky venture,” he said. “However, the successful risk-takers are the ones who understand and are comfortable with the downside risk before jumping into a new venture.”