Ithaca Times

Cobbler's Cottage

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Posted: Wednesday, May 17, 2000 12:00 am

Photos by Tracy Meier Ithaca Times | 0 comments

Sandwiched between the aroma of Chinese food coming from the restaurant on one side and the steamy, soapy fragrance coming from the dry cleaners on the other, Cobbler's Cottage can compete with its own worthy odor-leather, fresh and new.

Located in the Ithaca Plaza, itself sandwiched between Elmira Road to the east and Meadow Street on the west, Cobbler's Cottage has been offering delightful smells and the shoes, sandals and boots that go with them for two years, adding merchandise to their shelves over time.

Cindy Braschear, the store's owner, started out knowing nothing about fixing or selling shoes when she bought Nate's shoe repair shop. Now she has a dedicated customer base who bring in their shoes for repair or come to browse for a new pair of sandals.

As she see it, the niche Cobbler's Cottage is filling is simple: top quality footwear and top quality service.

"There are a lot of trendy places, places out at the mall," Braschear said Monday as she took a quick break from helping a steady stream of customers, "but there was no place selling shoes for casual comfort that aren't going to fall apart in two days."

So Braschear has taken on that task herself, slowly expanding the store's stock as she found shoes she wanted to sell. And with a shoe repair shop in the back, it was readily apparent which shoes were quality and which were not.

"We see what types of shoes come in for repair, with the heels falling off or the soles ripping out," Braschear said. "And we don't want to sell those. We try to sell shoes that can be repaired, that last a long time and don't go out of style."

And, she could add, she has shoes that are hard to find anywhere else.

Cobbler's Cottage is the one place locally where a shopper can find shoes from Olsson, a Swedish manufacturer, Stegmann, a German company, and boots from Chippewa. One unique shoe they carry is a double-soled moccasin made from what must be quarter-inch-thick leather, which are produced in Maine by Quoddy Trail Moccasin Co. They look like they would last 50 years, at least.

Other items for sale include shoes from Birkenstock and the Aurora Shoe Company, bags and purses from Victoria, Frye and International Leather, Schott leather jackets, and, a new product, bridal shoes.

Braschear said she started out with six pairs of Auroras and six pairs of Stegmann's woolen clogs. "[I] put them out and I looked at them and thought, 'Oh no, can we do this?'"

Obviously, she can. With the help of Ed Volpecilli, a shoe repairman with 25 years of experience, business has increased steadily, often by word-of-mouth.

Judy Johnson, who was in the store Monday taking pictures of shoes to send to a finicky daughter in San Diego, was overflowing with praise for Braschear.

Johnson, a costume designer for 13 years with Cornell University's theater arts department, said she has brought many jobs to Cobbler's Cottage, from shoes that needed an unusual tongue or heel added to them as part of a costume to shoes that needed a desperate repair so the show could go on.

"They'll tackle anything," Johnson said. "They'll tackle it without hesitation, and they're so cheerful, too."

Braschear was quick to accept Johnson's compliments with a laugh. She learned to like working with the public serving for 10 years as a bartender at her father's bar in Newfield. She was less happy working at Cornell behind a desk and jumped at the chance to buy the store when Nate's was up for sale.

There's nothing worse that going to the store in the mall where the teenager behind the counter is talking on the phone and doesn't look up when you come in, she said.

"It's too impersonal," she said. "What we do differently here is we spend a lot of time with the customer. I've told people, 'Don't buy those shoes, they don't fit your feet. And they're shocked."

Braschear broke off what she was saying to hold up a tiny pair of shoes the store had just finished repairing. The shoe's owner promptly flopped on the floor, grinning from ear to ear, and scrambled toward her.

The little girl's mother was surprised, noting that the child usually runs when Mom tries to put shoes on her. "It must be the presentation," she said.

Located in the Ithaca Shopping Plaza, Cobbler's Cottage can be reached at 273-2951. Business hours are 9 a.m.-6 p.m., Mon.-Fri., and 9 a.m.-2 p.m. on Sat.

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