2018-03-09 / Community

A Window on the Past

A South Portland tale: The cobbler’s shoes
By Craig H. Skelton
South Portland Historical Society

Steve Foss, in his shoe shop on Fickett Street, still fixes shoes the old-fashioned way. (Courtesy photo) Steve Foss, in his shoe shop on Fickett Street, still fixes shoes the old-fashioned way. (Courtesy photo) I stepped through the door of the shoe shop on Fickett Street and imagined a time warp had cast me back to the early 1900s. This is a time I find most interesting based on the invention of so many things that have made life for us today so different than that of our parents or grandparents. It was easy to picture myself in a Ken Burns PBS documentary, standing on some long-ago factory floor surrounded by wondrous and mystifying machines, humming and churning out widgets of the day. Machinery resembling those stood along the walls of the shoe shop. Steve Foss, proprietor of the business, uses the same equipment found nearly a half century ago in the shop owned by Luis Cidre at the corner of Elm Street and Broadway. Steve apprenticed there for many years, bought the business from Luis and operated it on Broadway until 2003 when he moved to the current location on Fickett Street.

As hard as it is to believe, you can still get shoes repaired. That is one of the charming things about South Portland. Residents enjoy such a diverse business base that you can find almost everything you need within the city limits.

My experience was centered on my daughter’s need to have some dance shoes fixed. The date of her dance recital was looming and the local dance supply store did not have tap shoes to fit her. Dancers are funny about their shoes and you often can’t just buy a pair off the shelf. So off I go to a little-known shoe shop up the street from us with a pair of well-loved tap shoes with about a million taps in them.

Steve is about as down to earth as you can get and when you meet him, you would count him amongst one of your friends. He welcomed me into his shop and educated me about the machinery he inherited from Luis. I got the distinct impression that you really can’t build a better mousetrap and the versions of antique equipment he works with are the best available to get the job done. He has employed a little MacGyver magic to keep them running all these years.

As it turns out, those tap shoes that Steve repaired in March 2008 are still tapping. Our family considers Steve to be, much like Scottie on “Star Trek,” a miracle worker.

Steve told me the story of Luis and his family that lived in Cuba. He says that Luis customized the heel of his shoes so he could hide gold coins within them. Luis knew that getting out of Cuba was only one part of his family’s great adventure and when they arrived in this country, they were going to need to establish themselves somehow. I certainly remember his shop on Broadway well and only wish I could have found a picture of that location for this column.

South Portland has long been a melting pot. I grew up in a neighborhood where my parents were close friends with an Armenian family and the mom in the family across the street did not speak any English. My mom and other moms in the neighborhood helped her to not only learn English, but to drive an automobile. Frankly, I didn’t know all this at that time but now with my interest in local history, thinking back, my childhood was richly filled with great depth and dimension because of the diversity surrounding us.

One of the things we are losing touch with today is so many great stories like this about the struggles of our forefathers before us and the lasting legacy they have given us. Steve is a part of that legacy and I hope that he can bestow upon someone the craftsmanship and skill he learned from our previous generation.

I thank Steve for his hospitality while showing me around his shop and thank him for his impressive quality of workmanship that certainly must be a testament to everything Luis Cidre passed along to him.

If you have any photos or other history of South Portland to share, please contact the South Portland Historical Society at 767-7299 or sphistory04106@gmail.com.

Craig H. Skelton is a member of South Portland Historical Society.

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