Fixing Rapid City One Sole at a Time at Bob's Shoe Repair

Posted by Michael Zimny on

Chad Scoular is making a go of it in an endangered trade — shoe repair. "In the fifties, there were six shops in this town [Rapid City]. Now there's one, that's us. The closest one is Sheridan, Wyoming. The others [in the region] are Vermillion and Sioux Falls."

"It's getting to be a throw-away society. It's getting tough to fix things too. It's almost cheaper to buy a new pair than to go get it fixed."

Fortunately for him, there's a particular type of footwear, common in this region, that people like to hold onto for awhile.  

"Our primary business is cowboy boots. That's what we love to do."

"I have a five-state market. And because we are so rural, every one's ranchers. They wear cowboy boots. And cowboy boots aren't cheap. They're a tool. You have to have them to do your work. And if you get a good pair of cowboy boots that you like, it's cheaper to get them fixed then to buy a new pair."

"There's a lot of shoe repair places in New York and New Jersey, and you see them on Facebook repairing thousand dollar dress shoes. Well, we just don't see that here. I'll get a thousand dollar pair of cowboy boots in, but I just don't see the dress shoes. But that's okay, cause I like the cowboy boots."

In addition to shoes, the shop fixes other leather goods. "Purses, you name it. If it can be riveted, stitched or glued — if we can fix it, we'll do it."

Inside Bob's Shoe Repair. Background: Clay Banyai.Inside Bob's Shoe Repair. Background: Clay Banyai.

Scoular's first forays into leather work were in his father's basement shop outside of Denver, Colorado. (His father was a diesel mechanic who made saddles on the side.) "We lived on a small acreage and had horses and cattle and hogs and everything." He grew up rodeoing — riding saddle broncs — and naturally gravitated towards building saddles, tack and chaps.  

After high school, he left home to attend National American University in Rapid City, where he ended up working at Bob's. "I always had an interest in shoes and boots and being a broke college kid, I needed some money. Bob had a sign in the door. He put me to work and taught me everything I needed to get started."

Bob Wessel Sr. started Bob's Shoe Repair in 1946. His son, Bob Jr., and wife Lori, took over in 1979 and ran the shop until Bob Jr. died suddenly in 2009. Scoular was doing other things at the time, but Lori reached out to see if he would be interested in taking over. He was. 

At first, he had to learn fast. Bob had taught him some things, but not everything. 

Chad Scoular working an antique outsole stitcher.Chad Scoular working an antique outsole stitcher.
"I didn't have anyone to show me how to run [the outsole stitcher], so I had to learn on my own. There was a lot of nights spent down here practicing. About ten thousand more pair and I'll be good at it."

Many of the machines and tools Scoular works with — like his Landis outsole stitcher — are antiques or aren't made many more. "There's fifteen hundred moving parts on this one machine. They used to have guys that come out once a year an tune up your machinery, but that went away thirty years ago. Now, you've got to fix them yourself and hope that nothing breaks because parts for these are expensive. But there's not a whole lot of margin to make a lot of money to go buy new machinery, so you just use the old stuff."

The long nights have paid off, (in a shoe repair kind of way). The community that supported the shop through the Wessel years have stood by it.  

"I tell you what," says frequent customer Shane, who stops in while waiting for a haircut next door, "there's talent streaming out of these guys." Shane is referring to Scoular and his only hired hand, Clay Banyai. He points out a framed, tooled-leather art piece Banyai created, featuring a pheasant, in the display case in front of the store. He particularly admires the detail on the three-dimensional pheasant head.


"It's fun," says Scoular of shoe repair. "It's the type of job that everything is done with your hands. Everything that we touch has to have my approval on it before it goes out the door. If you want to have a quality product, you have to take pride in everything that you do. And that's why we have a loyal customer base. I have people ship me stuff from Oregon, Florida, Minnesota, Colorado."

Maybe one day the disposable epoch will end, shoe repair shops will spring up like Starbucks, and conspiracy theories will abound about Big Shoe Repair suppressing self-fixing shoes. For now though, even minus a revival, Chad Scoular's place on Main Street seems secure. 

"My goal is to make a hundred years. As long as things go the way they are, I think we're gonna make it. After that I'm done."

subscribe to sdpb email updates food blog link image learning blog link image living blog link news and information blog link science and technology blog link sports blog link image

Related content from SDPB Radio - Art

Paul Horsted’s Epic National Parks Project

In The Moment ... November 22, 2017 Show 226 Hour 1 Paul Horsted has been making photographs for more than 35 years....

Cheech Marin On Art, Comedy, And American Identity

In The Moment ... November 13, 2017 Show 218 Hour 1 Cheech Marin is known as an actor, director, author, and...

In The Moment ... Artists Respond To The Reformation

In The Moment ... October 31, 2017 Show 210 Hour 1 What does it mean to drastically change in order to improve...

In The Moment ... The Art Of J. Steven Manolis

In The Moment ... October 5, 2017 Show 192 Hour 2 The "Painting Vermillion Red" art exhibit features the work of USD...


Craig Tschetter: "15 Minutes Ago"

In The Moment ... December 13, 2017 Show 239 Hour 1 Author and Vietnam veteran Craig Tschetter joins In the Moment host Lori Walsh for a conversation about his book, "...

Book Talk With Jacqueline Palfy

In The Moment ... December 8, 2017 Show 236 Hour 1 What does another year of reading tell you about the world and...

Penguin Hotline: No Penguins Harmed In Search For Books

In The Moment ... November 29, 2017 Show 229 Hour 2 Inspired by the Butterball Turkey Hotline, the fine penguins...

Paul Horsted’s Epic National Parks Project

In The Moment ... November 22, 2017 Show 226 Hour 1 Paul Horsted has been making photographs for more than 35 years....


Moment In Sound With Tammy Yonce

In The Moment ... December 8, 2017 Show 236 Hour 1 For this week's Moment in Sound we welcome Tammy Yonce, music...

Anjelic: A Woman Sits Quietly Beneath

In The Moment ... December 5, 2017 Show 233 Hour 1 The women of Anjelic have been making music together long enough...

History Of Handel's Messiah

In The Moment November 30, 2017 Show 230 Hour 1 The South Dakota Symphony Orchestra presents the Handel's Messiah...

Rock Garden Tour With "Flowerman" And "Oil Can"

In The Moment ... November 29, 2017 Show 229 Hour 2 Ted Heeren (Flowerman) and Tom Hurlbert (Oil Can) join us to...


Images of the Past: Stage To Screen

In The Moment ... November 27, 2017 Show 227 Hour 2 A new exhibit at the Old Courthouse Museum tells the story of...

Personalities: From Huron High to Broadway

Singer, actor, and teacher Joseph Mahowald graduated from Huron High School in 1977. He went on to study music and...

In The Moment ... Alex Meyer's Scenic Design

In The Moment ... May 10, 2017 Show 090 Hour 2 Alex Meyer. He's a junior art and theater major at Augustana College...

In The Moment ... Remembering Vietnam On Horseback

In The Moment ... May 9, 2017 Show 089 Hour 2 Colt Romberger’s father served in Vietnam, and it changed his life...