A Stitch at a Time

YunTae “John” Oh

YunTae “John” Oh demonstrates how a stitching machine works at the new location of John's Shoe Repair. (Photo by J. Simms)

Beacon shoe repair shop hopes to bounce back

A fire on Main Street in Beacon last year didn’t just destroy Alvin Bell’s barbershop, a space he had occupied for more than 30 years. 

It also displaced YunTae “John” Oh and his wife, HwaJa Oh, whose shoe repair shop at 209 Main St. had been Bell’s neighbor for a dozen years. 

While firefighters initially reported that John’s Shoe Repair sustained minimal smoke damage as a result of the blaze, it was enough to close the shop until repairs could be made and inspected, said Joe Donovan, who owned the 201-211 Main St. building but was in the process of selling at the time. 

Donovan said this week that he had negotiated new, multi-year leases with each of the commercial tenants in the building, including John’s Shoe Repair and Bell’s barbershop. “We did that so each of the them would have stability in their current locations after the sale,” he said. 

That all changed July 6, when fire broke out in the rear portion of Bell’s barbershop. Beacon firefighters were on the scene within 60 seconds of the 4:04 p.m. alarm, and remained on-site for more than three hours.

Fighting heavy smoke, firefighters found the blaze and were able to confine it to the first floor of the building. The fire was ruled accidental, said Chief Gary Van Voorhis.

But by then, the merchants had signed their leases and Donovan was scheduled to close on the sale to Fadil Mavraj, the developer of the 206-208 Main St. building, within weeks. Donovan quickly determined it would not be possible to restore the barbershop before the sale, and terminated Bell’s lease at 211 Main. (Bell, 88, said in December that he had decided to retire rather than rebuild his business. He returned $10,200 raised through GoFundMe.)


A signboard directs passersby to the new location of the shoe-repair shop. (Photo by J. Simms)

Donovan also knew it would be difficult to restore the shoe repair shop before the sale closed. “We moved their equipment and furnishings out and made a serious attempt to complete those repairs in the short period available,” he said. When the repairs could not be completed in time, Mavraj said this week that he terminated John and HwaJa’s lease. He hopes to have a new tenant in the space sometime this year.

For a short time, the Ohs shifted the business into their Hopewell Junction home (while collecting and returning customers’ shoes from the sidewalk in front of 209 Main St.), before moving in January into a small but recently refurbished commercial / service space at 152 Main St., an otherwise residential building that Donovan owns. The shop is open weekdays from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. 

Donovan paid to move and store the couple’s equipment after the fire; John and HwaJa used their retirement money to move the equipment into the new space. 

That arrangement has not been without complication, as an older piece of shoe-repair machinery was too big to move into the building. The couple hopes to raise $12,000 to replace it with a smaller, newer machine that would fit inside.

Despite the setbacks, John and HwaJa are still at work each day repairing shoes, bags and other materials. On crowded racks and behind display cases, they sell sunglasses, socks, shoe polish and other odds and ends.

A sandwich-board sign and small banner on the sidewalk direct customers to the location, behind the Bannerman Island Gallery at 150 Main St. The changes have been challenging to endure, said HwaJa, who brought from the old shop a handwritten list of 150 customers’ contact information.

HwaJa Oh is shown with the machine that is too large to fit inside the new John's Shoe Repair location. The machine has since been moved to their home in Hopewell Junction.

HwaJa Oh is shown with the machine that is too large to fit inside the new John’s Shoe Repair location. The machine has since been moved to their home in Hopewell Junction. (Photo by J. Simms)

“They call but they can’t find us, so they give up,” she said through a translator. 

John, who was a chef for 25 years in Korea before moving to Beacon in 2011, makes the 25-minute drive to and from Hopewell Junction each day, bringing shoes to the big machine, which is used to “finish” a repaired shoe after it’s been restitched. 

If the couple can raise the money to purchase the equipment they need, it would allow them to stay in the new location. But, if anything, the last year has taught them that things can always change. 

“We’re thankful that we got this space, but we want people to know we’re here,” HwaJa said.

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