Charlie Atkinson is a fourth-generation shoe repairman.
Charlie’s great grandfather, Thomas, did shoe repair in North Carolina out of his barn. He passed the craft onto his son, Glenn, who passed it onto his son, Charlie senior, who passed it onto Charlie.
Charlie Atkinson senior moved his family to the Jacksonville area in 1969, and on Nov. 1, opened Atkinson Shoe Repair in Jacksonville Beach.
Now owned by his son, Charlie, Atkinson Shoe Repair has flourished since. And the family enterprise is proudly celebrating 50 years of specializing in what present-owner Charlie calls “a fading craft.”
“The industry is fading as the older craftsmen retire and there are not many to take their place,” Charlie said one recent day as he worked side by side with other family members. “But shops that have quality craftsmen can continue to flourish because there is still a demand for the service.”
When Charlie’s great grandfather, grandfather and father were in the business, it was a popular profession. In 1969, when Charlie senior moved to Jacksonville with his family, including 12-year-old Charlie, he worked for Walsh Shoe Repair, which at the time owned 350 shops coast to coast.
There used to be other shoe repair businesses in the Beaches area, but now, Charlie said, “I’m the only one left at the beach.”
Atkinson Shoe Repair draws customers from miles around, including Jacksonville, Ponte Vedra Beach, Nocatee, St. Augustine and even Brunswick and Savannah, Ga. People also ship things from around the country through the company website.
In addition to shoes, the business also repairs purses, belts, wallets, luggage, golf bags and more.
“It is a fading craft, but it is also a type of art form,” Charlie said. To fit the item being repaired, “Everything we do is not pre-sized. Everything has to be cut and trimmed and shaped.”
Charlie Atkinson senior started his business by buying an existing mom and pop shop in Jacksonville Beach called Holland Shoe Repair, located at 9th Avenue North on Third Street. Charlie took over ownership in 1989 and continued in that location until 1996, when a fire burned through the shopping center where they were located.
“It was a really bad fire,” Charlie said. Nine months later, after dealing with insurance and seeking a new location, he reopened the shop at its present site at 1245 S. Third St., Jacksonville Beach.
It continues to be a family affair. Charlie’s wife, Nadine, works there, as does his nephew, Dan Livermore; his younger brother, Michael Hagan; and his older brother, Glenn, who is semi-retired.
Livermore has worked at the business for many years, after learning the craft from the two Charlies. Working in the shop behind the counter, with equipment that includes a finisher, shoe press, auto-soler, shoe jack, sole-stitcher and patching machine, Livermore said, “It’s different every day. It’s not the same thing.”
“You never know what’s coming in the door,” Hagan said. They even repair baby strollers, car floormats and baseball gloves.
Charlie said after graduating from high school, he wasn’t sure he wanted to stay in the industry. He went to work for his dad, while mulling over other possible career options. “My dad never pushed me into it,” he said. But one day, while driving to work, he said it hit him: “I thought, ‘you know what, this is not a bad gig.’”
And it hasn’t been, he said. “I love it.”