Service is soul of success at shoe store

A long, narrow space with sturdy, well-worn equipment in the back and shoes and boots stacked high in the front, Whit Miller Shoe Store & Repair looks like a place where not much has changed over time – in a good way.

But like a range of other businesses, the 80-year-old shop in downtown Mooresville is facing rising prices and consumers' concerns about spending.

Sales and traffic are about the same as in the past, said brothers David and Tony Miller, who own and run the store with their father, Peanut, 80. However, customers have become more dollar-conscious when they buy shoes, David Miller said.

The store sells work shoes and boots, western boots, accessories and tack supplies, and it repairs all types of leather goods. And though the Millers say they very rarely raise prices, the rising cost of petroleum has forced their hand this year.

It costs $3.81 to ship a pair of shoes from California, about twice what it did a year ago. The thread for their sewing machines comes in 1-pound spools, which cost $55 a pound, up from $28 a pound the last time they ordered. Glue has gone from $17 to $38 a gallon. Rubber soles have also gone up.

In some cases, the Millers have had to pass along the price increases, but it's a difficult balance:

Raising prices on smaller jobs – a dollar here, a dollar there – hasn't seemed to bother customers. Mainstay repairs such as half soles and heels have stayed steady at $35. If the price goes much beyond that, David noted, customers will buy a cheap pair of new shoes instead.

So, the brothers keep grinding and polishing, sewing and finishing, amid racks of belts, elaborate holsters and the smell of leather, beneath pictures of NASCAR drivers and old-time celebrity cowboys, focusing on customer service all the while.

“Poor old Tony; he was in here the day before yesterday, and he spent an hour and a half with three different people,” David said. “They tried every shoe there was in here.”

“I sold 'em all shoes,” Tony interjected.

“And they brought someone else in the next day,” David said. JEN ARONOFF