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Saturday, January 21, 2017

The "The Nicest Cobbler You'll Ever Meet" Story

It was an ordinary day.  Just walked into the shop of one of the nicest guys you could ever meet.  Guy by the name of Michael who happens to be a cobbler.  If you don't know what a cobbler might be, it is someone who repairs shoes.  And, it is a dying profession.  In Lancaster County there are a total of three cobblers; perhaps four if you search the Amish community for one.  And, Michael, who is in his 50s, is the youngest of them.  Shoe repair is much like TV repair and tailoring in that when the current crop of repairmen retire or die, there will be none.  We have become a throwaway society which has led to the loss of craftsmen in those trades that repair items that can be replaced just as easily as repaired.  
Michael waiting on one of his customers.
I guess that might happen someday, but to look at Michael's rows of shelves filled with shoes to be returned to their owners, you'd never think it was going to happen anytime soon. The man with the white hair and glasses perched on the end of his nose greets me and asks what my mission is today.  I told him I came to take his photo to go with a story I was about to write to tell my readers about one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet.  Brought a big smile to his face.  
Michael skillfully sews one of my
wife's shoes I had taken in for repair.
Then I told him I had just taken a photo of his son at the nearby Manheim Township Middle School and would put it in this year's yearbook which I'm working on at the time.  "Can't be too many people with the last name of Paparo around here," I told him.  "That's my son!  He's one of four children I have.  All were adopted. Andrew is from Cambodia. Smart kid."  Looking around the small shop at The Village in Fiddler's Green, I'm amazed at all the equipment he has accumulated over the years. My guess is that some of the equipment was part of his father's business, since he too was a cobbler years ago.  Michael helped his dad around the shop when he was a young boy living in nearby Ephrata and eventually took over the business in the mid-1970s.  Wasn't long before he moved the business to the Watt & Shand Department Store in downtown Lancaster in the early 80s and then to the Foxshire Plaza when Watt & Shand closed.  
The skilled hands of a master craftsman.
That's where I got to know him, taking shoes to the store about a block from my house that I now live in.  Michael stayed at Foxshire Plaza for over 17 years until he recently moved to The Village in Fiddler's Green.  He took over the business site that was at one time a travel agency; two doors from the shop where I worked framing photographs and the like at Grebinger Gallery.  Most everytime I make a visit to the shop, Michael is too busy to talk much, but then, by the time I leave, twenty minutes has passed.  Family and friends is always part of the conversation and love for his family is evident by the way he talks about his children.  This guy, who  is one of the most skilled, is really one of the nicest guys you could ever meet.  It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy.            

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