Meet Dave Currie, the 79-year-old cobbler with no plans to retire

Currie's Shoe Repair has been a fixture in downtown Charlottetown for 115 years, and Dave Currie has been there for nearly half of them.

'I feel as good as if I were 30'

'It's on the way out but I'm not,' says Dave Currie of his trade as a cobbler. (Sarah Keaveny Vos/CBC)

Walking across the threshold into Currie's Shoe Repair shop is like stepping back in time — the scent of leather and shoe polish fills the air as the steady beat of a century-old sewing machine rattles on.

The shop has been a fixture in downtown Charlottetown for 115 years, and Dave Currie has been there for nearly half of them. The soon-to-be 80-year-old cobbler has been working in the family business for 60 years and is still going strong, working full time with no plans to retire.

I'm going to keep working until I can't work anymore.— Dave Currie

"I'm on a five-year plan now — I'll go for five that will put me to 85, and who knows? Maybe I'll make 90," Currie says. 

"I feel as good as if I were 30."

'I always liked the work'

His grandfather Frank Currie opened the family business in 1903 in a storefront on Queen Street, working there for years with his son Vernon, Dave's father. 

'Every little village in P.E.I. had a shoe repair shop' in the old days, says Currie. (Sarah Keaveny Vos/CBC)

In 1958, Dave joined the team.

"They taught me everything I know and I always liked the work," Currie said. 

It was a bustling time to be in shoes and the family business grew steadily. Currie's Shoe Repair became the place where cobblers from communities across P.E.I. came for supplies and expertise.

"At one time there was one on every corner — every little village in P.E.I. had a shoe repair shop."

Footwear is now 'throwaway'

But as the decades have unfolded, Currie has seen fashion trends change — women who would never have dreamed of wearing anything but heels began to reach for more casual, comfortable options. Flats, sandals, even some sneakers are now acceptable workplace attire. Currie's business began to slow. 

'You can see that stuff has changed — it’s not fixable, it’s throwaway,' says Currie. That's led to a decline in his business. (Sarah Keaveny Vos/CBC)

Footwear quality has declined too, Currie points out — cheaper plastics and vinyl began replacing real leather — and footwear is now almost disposable.

"You can see that stuff has changed — it's not fixable, it's throwaway. Any business will tell you that. People that do fridges and stoves and TVs it's the same," Currie said. "In other words don't fix — sell. Don't be bothered trying to fix things. Just buy, sell and make money."

'Like Benjamin Button'

The business moved in the 1980s from the Queen Street storefront to downstairs in the building's basement, where it remained for many years. 

Dave's grandfather Frank Currie, far left, started the shoe repair shop in 1903. (Sarah Keaveny Vos/CBC)

Just last year, the business moved again — this time, just around the corner to a tiny space in the rear of the old Currie family homestead (now two business storefronts) tucked in off Kent Street. 

To Dave Currie, the "new" space is as comfortable as an old pair of old shoes.

"I feel like Benjamin Button, everything's going back," he smiled. 

'They'd go out the door smiling'

The shop is in the house where Currie's father was born — his grandparents lived and died there too. 

The first-ever cash box at Currie's Shoe Repair — the first penny the business made is nailed to the front. (Sarah Keaveny Vos/CBC)

There's a real sense of family history there, he said — some of his father's old business ledgers he's held onto from decades past show meticulous record-keeping. It's a skill Dave carries on today, and just one of the many things he says he learned from his dad Vernon. 

"I think I picked up on his sense of humour. Father was really good with customers — if someone came in nasty, they'd go out the door smiling. He'd never get upset."

'Everyone's welcome'

Currie's Shoe Repair has been a fixture in Charlottetown for more than a century. 

'It’s a great meeting place, a great place to chat and say hello,' says Don MacKinnon, who often drops by the shoe repair shop. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

And for some it's more than just a place to drop off and pick up their shoes — they stop by just for a visit and a chat. That's because Dave Currie is a living history lesson and a great storyteller, say regular visitors like Don MacKinnon.

"It's a great meeting place, a great place to chat and say hello," MacKinnon said. He's known Currie for 15 years and enjoys his straight talk.   

"What always impresses me with Dave is that he's the same with everyone — it's the same welcome, the same hospitality, everyone's welcome," MacKinnon said. 

"He's a great guy to make people feel at home when they come here."

'Going to go down swinging'

Spending time in Currie's workshop is like taking a trip into the past — his cobbler's tools are very same ones his grandfather used. 

'You could spend $75,000 to replace everything in this store, and you couldn't do one thing better than I do,' says Currie of his antique equipment. (Sarah Keaveny Vos/CBC)

"Everything's old — my kids say I'm older than dirt," Currie said with a laugh. "You could spend $75,000 to replace everything in this store, and you couldn't do one thing better than I do. That's just the way it is if you look after the stuff." 

There's a machine for piercing eyelets into shoes that's about 100 years old — it runs with a simple foot pedal. 

Large sheets of leather, sharp cutting tools and wooden shoe moulds neatly hang on the wall, tools of a trade that Currie still proudly practices.

"It's a dying trade they say, it's on the way out but I'm not — I'm going to go down swinging. I'm not going to go down without a fight," he said.  

"I'm going to keep working until I can't work anymore."

Times may have changed in the rest of the world, but at Currie's Shoe Repair things have stayed pretty much the same. Currie is carrying on his family's long tradition of workmanship, customer service and sharing a great story or a two while he does it.

Nice to know some things don't change, even after 115 years.

Dave Currie with his ancient cash register and a pair of fancy boots that were never picked up — he says they're a neat conversation piece. (Sarah Keaveny Vos/CBC)

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About the Author

Sarah Keaveny-Vos

Sarah Keaveny-Vos is a P.E.I. native who graduated from the University of King's College in Halifax. N.S., with a Bachelor of Journalism degree. Sarah loves sharing stories of Islanders doing meaningful and inspiring things in their communities. sarah.keaveny-vos@cbc.ca