From Max Miesse
In the past few months, Tim Sontag has done his best to take a well-deserved retirement. After 38 years as the operator of Xenia Shoe & Leather Repair – a business he founded – the longtime villager officially called it a career.
“It’s a little bit bittersweet. I definitely miss some things about it, ”he recently told the news.
The store sells a wide variety of shoes – from tennis shoes to dress shoes – and also offers custom fits and advanced leather repairs. As a professional pedorthist, Sontag is known for helping people find a shoe that fits them exactly and repairing leather products.
Sunday’s last day in the store was December 31st. and a few months after retiring, he’s still adjusting.
“It will take me a while to get used to it,” he said.
But during this time Sontag had some time to think about what his work meant to him. In particular, he was happy to fix products that were important to people.
“It felt good to keep people’s favorite things going or to help someone with special needs – someone who was hard to fit – and get them what they need,” he said.
“It felt good just to give the community good personal service,” he added.
After the founder of the business left, Xenia Shoe & Leather Repair is now run by long-time employee Matt Jopson, who, according to Sontag, “is a great guy and will do a really great job.”
When asked how he got into leather processing and shoe repair, Sontag said it started with a few small projects that grew into a trade.
“I worked leather, I made moccasins,” he recalled, “and I had this kind of romantic idea: I wanted to make shoes.”
With this in mind, a young Sunday went to Akron, where he worked under a shoemaker, and after spending several months learning the ropes, he actually bought the shop. But after a few months up there, he felt the pull of Yellow Springs and knew it was time to bring his job back home.
“I studied there, made some rookie mistakes, and gained some confidence,” but in the end he said, “I knew I wanted to live in the Yellow Springs area.”
Born in St. Louis, Missouri, Sontag first came to Yellow Springs in 1975 to attend Antioch College.
There he met many new friends, including his future wife, Lynn. And to get a taste of what life was like in Yellow Springs, the couple decided to stay in the area.
After his apprenticeship, Sontag returned to Greene County looking for a place to use his newly developed skills to start a business.
“I looked in Springfield and Beavercreek and Xenia, Kettering and Huber Heights and some places either had shops or were just too far,” he said.
“I chose Xenia because I really liked the way the city looked,” he said.
In a December interview with Gery Deer, chairman of the Yellow Springs Chamber of Commerce, he recalled that he had found “a nice little spot downtown, right across from the courthouse.” He moved in June 1982 and Xenia Shoe & Leather Repair has been an integral part of downtown Xenia ever since.
In an interview with Deer, Sontag recalled spending his first winter in his start-up business “huddled over a kerosene heater because I was so concerned about how much it would cost me”. But when he had time to put down his roots, the shop developed into a unique facet of life in and around Xenia.
Sontag bucked a trend by opening a shoe repair shop in the early 1980s. According to the Shoe Service Institute of America, there were around 60,000 shoe repair stores nationwide in the 1940s, but that number has now been reduced to under 7,000 nationwide. It took some patience and flexibility to ensure the success of his business.
“It’s hard to make a living just doing traditional shoe repair. So we fixed a lot of other things like luggage and leather jackets or really anything that requires heavy sewing,” he said.
Sontag remembers some of the more unique things he saw through the door, including tents, trampolines, diving gear, and even circus gear.
Sontag not only expanded the store’s repair repertoire, but also introduced Xenia Shoe & Leather into retail outlets. When another shoe store in Xenia had to close, Sontag was able to pick up his Red Wing work boot account. When the business changed its approach to products, Sontag took this opportunity to fix the business a little on its own, explaining to Deer that this was “a good motivation and also a good business move.”
But Sontag, a small business owner, knows that it would all have been in vain had it not been for the support of the community around him.
“The community has really been supportive of me, Xenia, Greene County. I know we have had a lot of Yellow Springs customers,” he said. “Lots of people make conscious choices to support local businesses, and that makes a difference.”
For his next steps, Sontag looks forward to spending time with his adult sons Andy and Nicky who attended schools in Yellow Springs, his grandchild and other family members who have settled in different parts of the world.
For the hardworking small business owner, it was an adaptation.
“I give myself time to get used to it.”
* The author is a freelance writer for The News based in Springfield. He can be contacted at email@example.com.