After 50 years, the mayor of Short Street hangs up his tools
No one has ever used “Apple Pay” at Tony’s Shoe Repair, and no one has taken out a credit card. At least not with success. No, for 54 years Tony Likirdopulos took only cash or checks, dutifully entering a 1927 cash register, where the numbers still display like a slot machine.
University of Kentucky men’s basketball posters don’t drop; each stays on the wall until next year’s team is tackled on top, a thick pile now. The only British poster that stands on its own is that of former trainer Tubby Smith, who used to bring his shoes to Short Street. Atlas Finance Co.’s personal loan clock always keeps time behind a dusty window; just below is a 1971 calendar.
Do you feel a theme here at Tony’s Shoe Repair, those yellow letters first etched on glass in 1968 and only slightly chipped today? Nothing has changed in a very long time, not the dull green walls that were once minty, not the pungent smell of leather, shoe polish and the slightest smell of feet, the odors accumulated in dust and paint over decades. Nothing changes here until everything changes, on Friday October 22, when the Landis 1968 sewing machine is unplugged and Tony, now 80, is officially retired. The last shoes left will be donated to charity, and the next set of shoes that customers still brought on Thursday will not be repaired.
“I don’t know what Jerry Tipton is going to do now,” Tony jokes of the Herald-Leader basketball writer and Tony’s Shoe Repair customer. “But I thank everyone. Good health.”
Tony is happy, he will take care of his wife and see his granddaughters more often in Columbus. His customers are distraught at the idea of Short Street without him.
“This is a tragic loss to the community,” said William “Sarge” Farris, who stopped by the store to say goodbye. “I don’t know what we’re going to do. It can never be replaced.
John Harris brought a pair of leather shoes to get soled. He’s been coming to Tony’s since the 1990s, when he first moved here to work for the UK. “He’s just a wonderful human being,” he said. “You can tell just by talking to him.”
Tony has chatted with thousands of people whose names he can’t remember and repaired thousands and thousands of shoes, although he never knew exactly how many. In an era when many move from job to job, he stayed in the same job in the same office for half a century beset by all the disruptions except the need to put new insoles on the shoes.
Tony shrugs and says, “I was trained to do this,” because his grandfather and father were also shoemakers who made and repaired shoes on their home island of Tenedos, in what is today. hui Turkey. All of the stability represented at Tony’s Shoe Repair seems to stem from a central trauma in Tony’s life: a story of geopolitical forced immigration has settled far from the vineyards and beaches of a small island close to the ancient site of Troy.
Tenedos started out as Greek, then became part of the Ottoman Empire in the 1400s. Amid much unrest after World War I, the Treaty of Lausanne ceded control to Turkey. Although the Greeks were allowed to stay, systemic discrimination meant that most of them left for Greece or America. Tony was forced to serve in the Turkish Army on the Russian border between 1961 and 1963, but his family has had enough. Part of Tony’s family went to Athens, part to Chicago, where they had family. They left their homes, businesses, vineyards and land. Twelve days on a boat to land speaking Greek and Turkish but not a word of English.
“He is very grateful, very grateful for the community and its stability,” said his daughter, Christina Likirdopulos, a scientist who lives in Columbus and is the mother of Eleni and Alexa. “He was able to plant roots in Lexington because he had to leave everything behind.
“I’m pretty proud of him, … I’m going to cry … he came to this country as an immigrant with the dream of a better life, he only had a sixth grade education, because it was the circumstance to be Greek in Turkey for him. I knew all my life that he always pushed me to invest a lot of time in my studies because it would be a way for me to realize the dream American for both of us together because he didn’t have the education path He worked hard all my life.
‘A CHARMING EXPERIENCE’
Christina remembered stories of how public defenders asked Tony for shoes because their clients didn’t have any for court, and he gave them among the pile of unclaimed shoes.
Sometimes Tony would tell customers that there was no point in fixing their shoes because they were just falling apart.
“The quality is gone, the shoes are made of cardboard that looks like leather,” Tony said. “If the base is good, there is a lot you can do with them.”
Tony’s store is a staple of downtown and from another era, a time before we went to big box stores. We fixed our clothes, rather than throwing them away and buying new ones. We walked around our towns and got to know the butcher, baker and shoemaker. For Erica House, client, “he’s like a dying breed of artisans.
“It’s an exchange, when you come home, he talks to you. It reminds us to slow down. Anyone who’s had an exchange with him knows what I’m talking about – it’s a lovely experience and she will be missed.
No one in Tony’s orbit seems to know if anyone else in Lexington is actually fixing holes in the leather of the shoes. (Actually, there’s a Bluegrass shoe repair on Lane Allen Road.) There’s an opening in a storefront next to the clock shop in a very old building on Short. But how will they learn the basics?
“Ray Larson appointed me mayor of Short Street,” Tony said with a smile. “After I retire, no one will want to be mayor anymore. “