Cobbling shoes was not the first career choice Daniel Gomberg had in mind growing up, but it is a trade he has mastered in a relatively short period of time.
Since opening Charm City Shoe Repair inside Majestic Cleaners in Roland Park this past May, Gomberg, 25, has earned the moniker “shoe doctor” from his loyal following and has completed more than 1,000 orders.
Whatever they call the Pikesville High School graduate, customers are all looking for the same thing when they set foot in Gomberg’s shop: a reasonable price and top-notch craftsmanship with a little personality.
Whether it’s a broken heel, worn-out sole or scuff marks, Gomberg, a fourth-generation cobbler, has a firm store policy that he’ll attempt to fix anything a customer brings him.
What led you to pursuing a career in the shoe repair business?
I never thought I would actually end up repairing shoes for a living. My parents came to the United States from the Ukraine in 1991 with $3,000 in their pockets to give me educational opportunities. When I was about 9 years old, I would go to my dad’s store [ESG Shoe Repair] just to see how he ran his business.
As I got a little bit older, I started polishing shoes for money and learning minor repairs such as how to clean leather and suede and do repairs on ladies’ heels. In high school, I would work with my father after school part time, which is when I got more involved. I basically got a crash course on how to deal with customers while also learning what it takes to run a successful business.
What opened my eyes to Charm City Shoe Repair full time was starting a family.
How did Charm City Shoe Repair come about?
In April 2015, after the previous longtime owner of this location passed away, the space became available for lease. I had my eye on this spot for a while. At the time, I was running my own event planning company [Dreamteam DMV], and the money wasn’t consistent. One week, I could make $2,000 or $3,000, and the next week, I could make $50, so it was a huge risk.
When my girlfriend was about six months pregnant, my father said to me, “Think about your future. You need to have a job you can go to and make money on a regular basis.” I believed my dad and knew going into the shoe repair business was something I could do to help provide for my family.
What’s the most important aspect of shoe repair?
A lot of people in this neighborhood call me a “shoe doctor.” Not only do I do a lot of orthopedic work, but I’ll do whatever it takes to give shoes a second, third and fourth life. Everything I have for shoes in my store in terms of the materials, I import from Italy. I try to stick with the best quality.
If you do a customer’s pair of shoes right the first time, they will bring back more shoes. Right now, it’s very important for me to establish my clientele base, because I have no room for mistakes. Either I’ll lock someone in right away for life if I do the repairs right or I lose them for good if I mess up. The three most important skills I have to maintain are to finish each repair on time, provide the best quality I can and maintain good customer-service relations.
What’s most rewarding about your job?
My favorite part is seeing how my customers react when they pick up their shoes. They come in and ask for one thing, but I give them back something even more. So the first thing they do is they run home, check their closet and see what other shoes they can bring me. I always try to do a little more than they ask for.
I bust my tail here, make people happy and get my hands dirty. This is a craft, one that is in really high demand and something that is really respected. I couldn’t be more thankful for all the opportunities my father has given me and I’ve earned through all the hard work I’ve put in.