Cobbler & Cleaners Inc., the Baltimore area shoe repair and dry cleaning chain, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
At one time Cobbler & Cleaners was a chain of eight stores, including two shops downtown. The downtown stores still carry the Cobbler & Cleaners name but are not owned by the chain and are not part of the bankruptcy proceedings.
The chain currently owns three stores with assets of $20,700 and debts of more than $700,000, according to a bankruptcy petition filed Wednesday by owners Henry B. Tucker and Mayta N. Tucker.
Henry Tucker, who has been in the cobbler business for 25
years, said the three stores -- in Reisterstown Road Plaza, Greenspring Shopping Center and on Reisterstown Road in Owings Mills -- will remain open while the business is reorganized.
However, in the petition the couple indicated that some equipment had been seized this week by one of their secured creditors who claim they owe $224,999.
The couple indicated in the bankruptcy filing that their prior locations included shops in Harundale Mall, Towson Town Center, Belvedere Square and the two downtown stores, on East Lombard Street and North Calvert Street.
It was unclear from the petition how the Tuckers disposed of the stores.
A competitor of the Tuckers, Judy Elbaum, is the third-generation owner of Century Shoe, which has been at 207 Park Ave. for more than 75 years. She said she was surprised to hear that the Tuckers had filed for bankruptcy.
"Henry kept saying how bad business was, but I just thought he meant in general," Elbaum said.
Elbaum said Century Shoe has been able to do well by offering a range of shoe services. In addition to basic shoe repairs, they recover shoes, custom blend colors for shoes and have a mail order business.
In the 1980s, Tucker and other cobblers saw an increase in business as the cost of new shoes rose. But it has become increasingly difficult for these stores to find cobblers. Additionally, increasing labor and supply costs and high rents at area malls make it difficult to stay in business with just a basic shoe repair service, Elbaum said.
"Part of the problem is the shoes are made differently these days. Many can't be repaired because they are made out of man-made materials," she said. "You can't sand man-made plastic. Before, everything was made out of leather."
Elbaum said that at one time her family owned nine shoe repair shops but closed all but the flagship store on Park Avenue for various reasons, none of which had to do with financial problems.
About 90 shoe repair shops are listed in the C&P Telephone book; nearly all are one-shop enterprises.