By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium
ST. JOSEPH — Cassandra Lopez has been a lot of things over the years.
The southern California native and current St. Joseph resident worked in home improvement for 20 years. She was also a certified Schwinn bike mechanic from her days racing BMX bikes.
But what Lopez is known for the most these days is serving residents as the owner and operator of Gagliardo Shoe Repair at 810 Highland Ave.
Between the hours of 8 a.m. and 6 p.m., Lopez can be seen replacing soles and polishing leather that has seen miles of work. Lopez came across the shoe repair shop that was for sale at the time and began an apprenticeship with Michael Gagliardo before he retired.
As the only shoe repair business in the area serving Berrien County, Lopez gets clients from Niles and Berrien Springs.
Staff Writer Tony Wittkowski sat down with Lopez to talk about her job and her favorite aspects about it.
How long have you worked here?
I bought the business four years ago in October 2011. I apprenticed with Mr. Gagliardo, the man who I bought the shop from. The funny story is we don’t know quite how it happened. I brought shoes here to be repaired, and I saw the sign in the window that said, “business for sale.” I asked and he said, “yeah, it was for sale but the person has to be good with their hands.” I shadowed him for about six months, but we worked together for a year.
In the four years you’ve worked here, what have you been the most surprised by?
Probably the different things that get brought in. Everything from a child’s favorite backpack to antique sleigh bells that somebody wanted revived to someone’s favorite shoe. That’s probably the biggest thing. I’m here to fix everybody’s favorite shoe.
I heard that you are certified to mend Michigan State Police boots. Is that right?
I sure am. I became a state vendor right after I started. An officer came in, and it was a lieutenant, and she asked why we weren’t a state vendor for them. There was no training. The big thing was getting a hold of all the right people. It’s wonderful now servicing all of the police, and I do fire departments as well.
Do your friends ever come up to you and ask if you can guess their shoe size?
Actually, I can’t usually go just about anywhere. I go to the grocery store and I hear, “Hey, good to see you. Let me show you my shoe.” But I don’t mind it, that’s why I’m here. I love being a part of the community. We are all here to work together.
What’s your favorite part about working here?
I would have to say at the end of every day I always have a sense of accomplishment. I’m always seeing what has been finished. You see somebody’s face when they pick up their shoe. Almost every day I’m told they are glad I’m here and that there is a shoe repair in town. It’s just really nice to be thought of like that. Fixing people’s favorite pairs of shoes and having them be happy is the best feeling in the world.
As a kid did you ever see yourself doing this?
I never saw myself owning my own shoe repair. I always knew I would own my own business. Growing up, I became aware that I was good with my hands and that I could fix a lot of different things. People have brought in random things here to see if I could fix them. They’ll go “I know you fixed my shoes, but can you fix my purse?” To me that’s the cool thing, there’s more than just shoes to fix.
Where do you see yourself and this business in the next five years?
I’m actually getting ready to sell high-end men’s shoes made to order. So, you’ll come in for a custom fitting and it takes anywhere from four to eight weeks to get a pair of shoes back. But the nice things is you can come in and pick the colors and the leathers. Eventually I can see myself expanding.
(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on July 20, 2015)