Besides air, nourishment and love, shoes are one of life's most dire necessities. But of these, a decent pair of shoes is the most difficult to find. Comfortable shoes abound, as do stylish shoes, but shoes that reach a harmonious blend of BOTH these valuable traits... ? Now that is a rare thing, a reclusive prey we spend years of our life searching for.
When finally capturing our prey, we pounce eagerly, plunging our feet into their welcoming holes, wiggling our toes in their warm embrace. We kick open the door and hit the streets, a new spark in our stride, ready to wear those shoes every day from that day forth, until the soles hang apart in sad flaps, and puddle water seeps through cracks in the toe. And then, reluctantly, we pick up our tattered remnants of podiatristic bliss, and carry them to the trash--a shimmering tear dangling from one eye. It is time to put them down, to begin the excruciating hunt anew.
Such is the life cycle of the Awesome Pair of Shoes. It is a truly Buddhist path, as a well-worn, treasured set of sneakers will take on a life of its own as months and years of shared experiences and adventures accumulate. For the Buddhist, every life, no matter how small or large, is equally valuable. And so losing good shoes is like losing a trusted friend.
Marty Krogh understands the spiritual side of shoes. With those gentle, deep blue eyes, he even looks the part of a wizened guru. Born and raised to a cobbler, he spent his formative years reincarnating the lives of battered shoes, replacing cork, patching holes, and stitching tongues. Now, years later, he intends to return to his roots, to fully bask in the shadow of his father, and to breath new life into a legacy built on, well, breathing new life.
"I've always known I would start a shoe repair shop," Krogh says of Art and Sole, his new cobbling nexus in North Portland. "When I was a junior in high school I worked in my dad's shop, and I had so much fun... It's pretty amazing, the sentimental attachment people have to their shoes."
Like many saviors, however, Krogh took wrong turns before finding the path of enlightenment. A native of Bend, he found himself in Reno, NV, after high school, with no idea what to do with his life. During this time, Krogh met his wife, a social worker.
"I was really struggling... and my wife said, 'Well, what's the thing you really love to do?' And I said, 'Art, it's the thing I like.' So I looked around and went to work at a wildlife gallery and after that, a fine art gallery. But I was no good at selling art. I loved the artwork, but it was too expensive."
Eventually, Krogh's artistic sensibilities led him into the world of graphic design. He took classes at a community college in Reno and started working at a silk-screening company. Soon thereafter, he and his wife moved to Portland, where Krogh found a job on the production staff of the Business Journal.
"It was fun at first," he says of the experience. "But then the deadlines... the pressure... it got to me. So I took a job in a warehouse with all these hip people from Intel and stuff, and it seemed kind of glamorous and cool, but it was just terrible. They expected you to come in at 7 [a.m.] and leave at 7 [p.m.]. That's how it was in 2000; work crazy hours and be all high-tech, dot-commer or whatever. It drove me nuts."
Krogh's frustrations led him to freelance graphic design, which provided a level of income he describes as "feast or famine." When his wife gave birth to an adorable little boy, Chase, he decided he needed to find a new way to make some money.
"My dad's a cobbler and he suggested I fix Birkenstocks," he says. "I looked into it, and it's really pretty easy. I built a website around Birkenstock repair, and for a year I worked out of my garage while doing graphic design. The shoes would just come to my door. I'd fix them, and send them back."
At this point, Krogh had become the proverbial oyster, whose years of grit and aimlessness had turned into a pearl of wisdom and experience.
"My background helps so much," he says, referring primarily to his savvy in website maintenance and graphic design. And sure enough, his link www.artnsole.net is an elegant, yet easy-to-use Birkenstock repair site. And people visit it, too.
"For a whole year I was in the number one position on Google and Yahoo," Krogh says with pride. "You typed in 'Birkenstock repair' and my site came up."
At the peak of its popularity, artnsole.net brought four to five repair jobs to Krogh's door a day. And so, with business booming and the freelance design work waxing and waning, Krogh threw caution to the wind to pursue the Big Time: a fulltime shoe repair store. Thus, Art and Sole--an unassuming little store with a room full of dusty sanders and shoe parts, and rows of empty shelves waiting to be lined with new shoes that Krogh hopes to sell along with the cobbling work. It's not much to look at, but then neither was the Holy Grail--and that heavenly receptacle bestowed its drinker with eternal life.
Krogh demonstrates a Birkenstock "rebuild," as the service is called, and the results are magical. He takes a dilapidated sandal, ragged and torn, and separates the strap from the bottom. He sands off years of grit from the old heel and sole to make a smooth surface for the pasting on of new cork material. He sands the new cork down, shaping and molding it to the shoe's original shape, then coats it with a powerful sealant. He then sands the filthy red strap, liberating the color underneath from a facade of grime. He holds the "new" shoe up and grins; it is bright and vibrant, as fresh as it was the day it left the factory. It is born again.
"It's pretty impressive what you can do to an old pair of shoes," Krogh says modestly. "I think it's worth it to buy a good pair of shoes and keep them nice. I've always been a big recycler, with the idea of living a sustainable lifestyle instead of throwing everything away."
Back home, I take out an old pair of brown Hush Puppies from my closet. Their soles are covered with vicious cracks that inevitably give my feet a soaking. I'd never wear them again, but I couldn't throw them away. It's hard throwing away something that talks to you, that tells stories of walking for miles through the streets of New York; of kicking back on my old porch while reading a book on a summer afternoon; of the long-gone beloved who helped me pick the shoes out in the first place. I don't want to throw the damn things out, and now, because I had to write a story I never thought I'd write on an unassuming cobbler who won Mercury Holiday Auction Item #23, I've found a reason not to.
Marty Krogh's going to fix them for me, and together, we're going to keep on walking. Marty Krogh will save my soles.
Art and Sole resides at 6517 N. Interstate, 285-SHOE.