Hack's Shoe Repair in Waverly is closing. (Kim Hairston, Baltimore…)
After 90 years of repairing shoes and other leather goods, Hack's Shoe Repair, a fixture in Waverly since 1922, will close its doors for good this week.
Its owner, Frank Booker, a veteran cobbler who has owned and operated the business in the 3400 block of Greenmount Ave. since 1968, has decided to retire at age 75.
A handwritten message taped to the shop's two bay windows tells the story: "This Shop is Closing on January 31, 2012. Pick up shoes: 10 AM to 4:30 PM."
"I was in the hospital the other day and I'm ailing a bit," said Booker, in a telephone interview last week.
"I enjoyed what I was doing. I always looked forward to going to work, and 99 percent of the people were OK, with only one percent a pain in the tuchis," he said. It was never a drag going to work and I'm really going to miss the people."
It was with mixed emotions that Booker made the decision to finally give up his life's work and retire.
David Owens, who owns and operates a home improvement business, used to live in an apartment above the shop during the 1980s.
"I've known Frank since I was a rug rat," said Owens, with a laugh.
"He was a great guy. An all-out person. Everyone liked him," he said. "But his health began to fail. He had hip trouble and in his line of work, you have to stand for long periods of time. There's very little you can do sitting down."
The two men became friends years ago riding transit buses.
"He didn't want to stop, but I told Frank to just let it go," said Owens.
The shop's closing marks the end of an era.
The first cobbler to establish a shop in Waverly, when it was known as Huntingdon and a part of Baltimore County, was Jacob Aull, a German immigrant. He opened it the 1830s.
Simon Hack opened his shop at the corner of Calvin and Greenmount avenues in 1922, not far from his home, which allowed him to walk to work each day.
"That was three years after the 33rd Street green median-stripped boulevard was cut through, to be followed by the arrival of the Boulevard Theatre and Venable Stadium," said Joe Stewart, a Waverly activist who is an attorney with the state Department of Assessments and Taxation.
"Streetcars still outpaced automobiles back then. Oil had yet to replace gas for heating. Folks had ice delivered to boxes; that was their refrigerator," said Stewart, an Avon Avenue resident who belongs to the boards of the Waverly Main Street association and the Better Waverly Community Organization.
Booker graduated in 1955 from Carver Vocational High School, where he learned his trade repairing shoes, and then served in the Army in Korea and France, from 1960 to 1964.
When he was discharged, he went to work in a shoe repair shop on Poplar Grove Street, and when the owner died, he found work with Ernie Collins, who had a shop on York Road in Govans.
"I had known Simon Hack since I was 15. He lived across the street from the shop with his wife and two daughters. I have plenty of Simon Hack stories," recalled Booker, with a laugh.
"He was a very kind, thoughtful and sensitive man. He was Jewish, and I remember he'd buy all of this matzo and give away boxes of it to people including me," he said. "I knew what to do with it."
Booker recalled a winter's morning in 1968, when he was sitting in a nearby restaurant enjoying some breakfast.
"You know, at that time of the day, all the morning traffic goes south on Greenmount and suddenly something happened. A friend of mine came in, and I said, 'What's going on George?" and he told me I'd soon find out. He didn't want to tell me."
Hack had been killed in an accident.
"He was crossing the street to go home and was hit by a car. I went out there and he was lying in the gutter. They worked on him, but I think he was dead," said Booker.
A few days later, the phone rang in his home. On the other end of the line was Hack's brother, Sam.
"He asked me to take over the business; then I realized he was giving me the business. I took over in February 1968 and have been running it ever since," he said.
Booker said he liked repairing shoes but had no use for trying to repair pocketbooks.
"We used to call that extra work," he said. "And I'm still using all of the original machinery here that Simon bought in 1930."
Owens said only his friend knew his way around the shop.
"He customized it and only Frank knew where everything was. No one else would be able to find anything," he said.
City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke presented a city resolution to Booker last week.
"I was his neighbor across the street. I had my campaign headquarters there in 2003. Frank was great. He kept his eye on things and was always a good neighbor," said Clarke.
She said there was always someone sitting in the shop shooting to breeze with Booker.
"It was very old-fashioned. It was like, come on in and join the conversation," she said. "We're really going to miss him. He was a great contributor to Waverly."
He lives on Payson Street with his wife, Evelyn, whom he married 44 years ago. He plans to spend more time with his family and especially his twin granddaughters.
The Bookers' three children graduated from college. Their son is a chemical engineer, while one daughter works for a travel agency, and the other is at the Johns Hopkins University.
"He didn't sell the business. And I know he's going to miss it," said Evelyn Booker.