A family legacy of heart, sole

His business might as well be located in Egypt, he said, even though certain places on Ball State's campus are closer to his shop than to the Muncie Mall.

Although Cammack is located only 2.5 miles west of Muncie, the old-world atmosphere inside Guinn's Shoe Repair Shop seems far removed from city life.

The rich aroma of oil-tanned leather hangs densely between the walls of his humble shop, as Steve Guinn, owner, greets a long-time customer.

"Howdy!" Guinn said. "Same thing as last time? Triple-E, right?"

Guinn often orders a customer's extra-wide shoes and boots in advance so that they're on the shelf when he or she is ready for replacements. He supplies shoes as large as size 18 EEEE.

"If we lived long enough, we'd all be two feet tall and six feet wide," Guinn said. "Gravity's real unforgiving."

"And in more ways than one," added the portly buyer.

His friendly persona and commitment to patrons' needs has earned Guinn a loyal customer base. The store offers hard to find large and wide sizes in quality, leather and rubber footwear. Specialty items such as ostrich-skin western and name brand steel-toed and hunting boots are also in stock.

Guinn's expertise in leather repair makes his services a virtually matchless commodity in the area. "Because shoe repair schools are sparse nowadays, this is one of the only leather repair shops around Muncie," he said.

Guinn said the shoe repair legacy began when his father completed a 34-week course at Muncie's Robert Knotts Shoe Repair School, formerly located in the basement of a downtown department store, in 1951.

Guinn's father owned and operated a sale and repair shop in Muncie during the '50s, and moved his business to nearby Cammack in 1972 after leaving his factory job. Guinn, who took over the family's business in 1985, received all of his training from his father.

But Guinn inherited more than just his father's knowledge and skill. While it may not be whisper-quiet, much of his equipment and machinery is more than a century old and fully functional, proving that "they don't make 'em like they used to."

"They were built to last, and they have," Guinn said. "Reliable, simple machines like these require very little maintenance."

Guinn last acquired a machine in 1952 when his father purchased the 112-year-old sole stitcher in Kentucky from a man who was then in his late 80s.

Today Guinn hones repaired goods on a finishing machine that is 100 years old. He does alterations on motorcycle chaps and jackets, mends purses and sews embroidered patches onto just about anything with a wrought iron Singer machine, not-so-roughly 125 years old.

Using only these experienced tools and his learned craftsmanship, Guinn can restore both traditional and modern shoe styles. He said the most common work is replacing worn or broken soles and heels.

Special orthotic lifts, which compensate for a slightly shorter leg or offset gait caused by uneven joints, and wedges, which correct pronating and supinating, are fashioned from foam rubber.

"Muncie is the Mecca for orthopedic build-ups," Guinn said. "It all started here at Ball State when a man named Clyde Edwards created orthotic lifts for his son, who had polio."

Guinn said he met men from India, Japan and Germany at a leather-repair seminar in Memphis who had all attended leather-repair courses at BSU.

Despite his sharing trade secrets with foreign leather specialists, he maintains that the shop only sold American-made products during its first 28 years. Only after a foreign manufacturer bought out his favorite LaCrosse brand rubber boots did Guinn consider housing imports.

"I kept LaCrosse boots on the shelves because in all my years of wearing and selling them, I have never once seen a defect," he said.

Guinn's also dyes shoes to match dresses and gowns for special occasions such as proms and weddings. Footwear accessories, including laces, straps and Spenco brand insoles, are also for purchase.

Guinn's Shoe Repair Shop is located at 2116 N. Cammack, 2.5 miles west of Muncie, between highways 500 and 600. For information about specific prices, call 765-759-8000. Store hours are 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday.