kids polo shirts wholesale Valley craftsman finds the shoe fits
THERE A LIST of reasons why Jon Gray looks years younger than his real age: a job that lets him meet his daughters at the school bus every day, a lineup of customers, a cosy shop with a wood stove and a commute of 15 metres.
Except for Indian spices, for which he occasionally travels to Halifax, Gray, a shoemaker and one of the most contented people you ever meet, has everything he needs in Annapolis Royal.
“We used to live in the country, in Port Royal, but I in the fire department and I was always the last one on the truck,” said Gray, 37. “My wife wasn convinced that was a good enough reason to move to town, but eventually I won her over.”
Gray advises visitors not to show up at his shop until mid morning, after the stove has taken off the chill. The converted garage with a rough hewn wooden floor and the pleasing aroma of leather has a neatly hanging array of tools with names like bone folder, pegging awl, channel knife and lasting pliers.
Gray doing the job that fascinated him since he was a boy.
“What led to me becoming a shoemaker is when I was a child I visited a shoe shop with my father, and something about the smell of the shoe shop, the leather, the look of the old tools . . . there something inherently attractive about these old tools,” he said. “And watching the craftsman make shoes, it could easily have been something I just ignored in my life, but for some reason it just stuck.”
During high school in Ontario, Gray swept the floors in an orthopedic shoe shop for a couple of years, spending time after the shop had closed learning how to make things out of leather. After graduation, the shop owner took him on as an apprentice.
“I was exposed to the work of hand sewn shoes by an older gentleman who worked at the shop when I first started, and something about what he did was particularly interesting to me,” said Gray. “Then when I saw the look of shoes made by modern shoemakers using those traditional techniques, I was blown away.
“I came out to Annapolis Royal to work in a theatrical shoe shop. In Granville Ferry,
there a gentleman there who makes shoes for plays and operas and movies. I wanted to learn how to make shoes with some style, and I thought I was going to spend a summer here working with him, and it turned out to be nine years.”
The shoes Gray turns out are so beautiful, it enough to make you consider getting a job that requires a suit just so you could wear the shoes. Of course, it would have to be a fairly well paying job, and you couldn be in a hurry.
“Right now, it about six to eight months to finish an order,” Gray said.
“For a first pair, there a $150 charge for creating the last, and the last is the form that looks like a foot, and the shoes are moulded around the last. Once I have that last made, I make a fitting model, which is a rough version of the shoe using less expensive materials and a cork sole.
“I try that on to make sure that when we invest the expensive materials and the time that the shoe is going to fit them. The shoes themselves are a thousand dollars.”
About two thirds of his customers are men, and typically they come to his shop three times for fittings while the shoes are being crafted. Halifax is his single biggest market, but Gray can do fittings via Skype, and he ships shoes all over the world.
“Often, customers will come to me with an image in their mind of the kind of shoe they want. Sometimes they seen my work and there a shoe that they particularly interested in, sometimes they have pictures they pulled out of magazines or newspapers, sometimes there sketches.
“When I first opened up, I was taking some business classes and . . . they ask you to define who you think your customers are going to be. I had it in my head that it would be the people with money.
“Not to say that my customers don have money, because you need to have a certain disposable income to spend a thousand dollars on a pair of shoes, but it not just the doctors, the lawyers, the business executives that I have.
“I have people who are interested in (the) craft, who are patrons of the arts, that are my customers. It so much broader a demographic that comes to me than I ever suspected.
“The best thing about my job is that I spend my days making a product that I think is beautiful and useful and comfortable, and at the same time I a steward of this craft.