Melbourne is known for its hidden cafes, not so much its hidden shoemakers.
You’ve got to have a lot of money to buy my secrets!
But inside the city’s Royal Arcade, up a tiny spiral staircase, in a workshop sprawling through the arcade’s majestic ceiling, the smell of leather fills the air.
Evan Skliros has been in charge of Evans Leather Restoration and Shoe Repairs for 55 years.
He started out as a 20 year-old boy, newly arrived from Greece, borrowing some money to set up his little shop in the CBD.
Now, Mr. Skliros has eight staff, whom he trained himself.
“Any tradesman I get I have to retrain in my quality of work,” he says.
He’s hesitant to share the secrets of his success.
“You’ve got to have a lot of money to buy my secrets,” he says.
But he tells me it’s important to see each job from beginning to end, and finally shares the three rules of shoe-making.
“I’ve got three rules: engineering, materials to select how to do the work, and the finishing,” he says.
“These are my three rules.”
And, from following these rules, Mr. Skliros says he has loyal customers from Melbourne’s outer suburbs, as well as interstate and even overseas, who save up their leather repairs for their next trip to Melbourne.
He says people will travel for quality work.
“The good shoemakers they not exist too much, they’re getting less and less,” he says.
“Young people, they don’t spend the time to learn the trade in depth, they’re only on the surface.”
“And if the quality doesn’t exist, if you don’t work at the foundation, what sort of work do you do?”
Over his 55 years in the business, Mr. Skliros says a lot has changed.
It wasn’t always computers and eftpos.
“When I started out, my boss kept shillings in one pocket, silver in one pocket and the notes in his top pocket,” he says.
“That was the cash register!”
When he was younger, Mr. Skliros said he worked 18-hour days, and he still likes to start around 7am.
But since he’s had a knee operation, he says he leaves earlier in the afternoon, around 3pm.
“Otherwise I would stay,” he says.
Fortunately for his customers, Mr. Skliros is not planning on retiring any time soon.
“Why?” he says.
In around a month’s time, his shop will move to a different location in the arcade, so the ceiling can be renovated.
Mr. Skliros, who is also a director of the Royal Arcade, said he doesn’t mind moving, as the arcade’s renovations are important.
“I’m interested in the arcade to finish up in beautiful condition,” he says.
“Like the shoes I make, like everything.”