Sole Survivor

13 images Created 20 Nov 2013

Hardwood floors, shelves filled with shoe heels and soles overflowing into workspace and onto errant zippers and straps all harken to decades passed. So does the grease and dirt covering work surfaces and floors.
A bell rings, signaling the arrival of a car at the drive-through window.
Don Raines, 62, owner and operator of Raines Shoe Hospital, sets aside his current project and walks 20 feet to the window, saying, “I swear I walk 10 miles a day in here.”
Some 48 years ago, Don stood at a workbench in Fort Campbell replacing soles on boots worn by Vietnam War soldiers. The son of Clarence Raines started working at the family shoe repair business a year earlier doing “jobs that no one wanted to do and Daddy couldn’t afford to pay.”
He stuck with his dad and a venture that at its peak between 1960 and 1974 brought in approximately $250,000 a year. U.S shoe-repair businesses such as Raines Shoe Hospital peaked in 1960 with an estimated 100,000 shops. Now some 3,500 operate nationwide, and economic seers say they have five years to live.
Yet, Don Raines shuffles on.
“God blesses a man that works with his hands,” he says.
He doesn’t need to work with his hands or anything else these days but continues for his wife, daughters and grandchildren.
Don provides the same quality and accountability customers came to expect when his grandfather opened the shop in 1939. Don uses the original machinery, and he’s proud to say that he wears the same Bass Quail Hunter boots he purchased in 1955.
“Shoes are very personal,” he says.
Cars are too. He still has the Chevrolet Camaro that he ordered as a young man. He knows exactly when it arrived, Nov. 25, 1966. It is the car he used when dating his wife.
“Life ain’t no fun by yourself,” he said.
At one point, his father wanted to trade in the Camaro for $700 but heeded his son’s pleas not to do it.
Now the Chevy comes with a $50,000 price tag.
That would pay for a lot of soles.
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