I paid my respects Saturday morning to a person who’s very much alive. His business, however, is closing Thursday, Aug. 15 for reasons beyond his control.
For the first time, we spoke as friends. We conducted no business. We both sat down on worn furniture. He sat back flashing his wonderful smile as he discussed his tenure as the face for 20 years of the go-to shoe repair business in Easton. His customers came from far and wide, I suspect.
Of course, I’m talking about Leroy Potter, who has worked nearly 55 years at Caldwell Shoe Repair, located since the 1960s in a small brick building at 15 N. West Street in Easton. His craftsmanship, his welcoming demeanor and promptness were all high-caliber. Potter has managed the shop since 1999.
The shop opened in 1935, operated by Charles Caldwell and his brother Stanley. Charlene Caldwell DeShields, Charles’ daughter, took over ownership after her father and uncle died in the late 1990s.
The shop always seemed shop-worn. Shoes and purses lay everywhere. The machinery looked old and dirty, sodden with coagulated glue. Yet, Potter would quickly find one’s shoes with little or no effort. He never seemed hurried or harassed. Your shoes were always ready when he said they would be, and flawlessly repaired.
Potter recently retired after 44 years with the Talbot County Public School System, 30 as head custodian at Easton Elementary School. I believe he spent part of his career at Easton Middle School, which my daughters attended. Unfailingly he would ask about my oldest daughter, who somehow grabbed his attention. He remembered her name.
I was not alone Saturday morning as I sat with Potter. One gentleman arrived full of bonhomie, obviously as fond as I of the smiling, reserved cobbler. He too wondered what life would be like without Leroy’s reliable skill and professional approach. This man, unknown to me, and I were tripping over each in praise of a man and special small business in a non-descript building.
Potter said he had been the beneficiary of similar visits from long-satisfied customers ever since the local media announced the closing.
He told me a story about a woman who lives in England and would bring her shoes—and a gift—every Christmas to the shop. As it turns out, I know this woman, who was raised here. She, like this writer, enjoys acquiring shoes and then taking care of them.
Potter mentioned maybe continuing as a cobbler on his own. The business is looking for a smaller space, according to a Star Democrat article. I encouraged that possibility. My guess is that he would have a steady, loyal stream of business. I would happily join those who like to deal with Leroy Potter.
Perhaps it’s my age and outlook, but I bemoan the loss of community assets, be it Caldwell Shoe Repair or the News Center, which closed last summer, or the Ben Franklin Crafts store. While small business sell products and services, they also generate emotional connections. The space and employees become part of our lives and memories.
Godspeed, Leroy Potter.
Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.