Shops in step with tradition

March 23, 1998|By RICHARD F. BELISLE

by Joe Crocetta / staff photographer

see the enlargement

Shoe Repair

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - Nemzek's Modern Shoe Repair is a mom-and-pop operation, only mom and pop run stores in different states.

James Nemzek runs the shop at 12 Rochester Place in Hagerstown and his wife Carol runs the shop at 51 W. Second St. in Waynesboro. The arrangement seems serendipitous.

"Most of the big machinery is in my shop, so I do most of the major work. Carol is better at things like dyeing and matching shoes and the lighter work," James Nemzek said.


James Nemzek is the fourth generation in his family to run a shoe repair shop. His great-grandfather started the family business on his farm near Germany's Black Forest in the 19th century.

"He fixed shoes for people in the village," Nemzek said.

His grandfather followed his father in the business and stayed in Germany until the late 1920s, when he moved his family and his shop to Frederick Street in Baltimore. James Nemzek's father, Eric, was 13 at the time. He worked in the shop when he was a boy and took it over when he grew up.

Eric Nemzek moved to Hagerstown and opened his first shop on Rochester Place. James worked in the shop as a boy. His father opened a second shop in Long Meadow Shopping Center in the early 1960s. James ran it until he bought out his father's downtown shop. His father, in turn, moved to the shop at Long Meadow, which he still owned.

"There were a lot more shoe repair shops in Hagerstown in those days than now. There were 11 shops in town in the 1950s. Now there are four," he said.

The father-and-son Nemzeks ran their respective shops until the mid-1970s, when James moved to a bigger building in the first block of South Potomac Street. He opened a sporting goods store in front and moved his shoe repair shop to the back.

His father was getting on in years so he closed the Long Meadow shop and started working in James' shop on Potomac Street.

Carol entered the picture when James hired her to work in the sporting goods shop. She soon began to learn the shoemaker's trade.

They were married 13 years ago, Carol said. Both had two children by a previous marriage, then had one of their own, Erica.

All five children have worked in the shops at one time or another, during and after high school and college, James Nemzek said.

In 1986, the Nemzeks closed the South Potomac Street shops and moved the shoe shop back to Rochester Place. They tried to expand their business by opening shops first in Frederick then in Thurmont, Md., but things didn't work out.

In 1989, they opened the shop in Waynesboro and it worked. They bought a two-family house. The shop takes up part of the building and their living quarters the rest.

His father died in 1993.

James said the shoe repair shop has changed over the years. He doesn't think there will be a fifth Nemzek generation in the business since none of his children seem interested. He does think he and Carol will be in it until they can no longer do it.

"You can keep repairing shoes as long as your hands and your eyes hold out," he said.

James Nemzek's other love is soccer. He grew up playing the game, and has been playing and coaching high school and adult leagues since he graduated from South High School in 1960.

He coached the Greencastle-Antrim High School soccer team for 15 years and just recently took over the Waynesboro Area High School girls' soccer team.

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