Good for the sole
Cobbler. As in maker of shoes. Not the peach, cherry, berry kind of sweet thing that surely popped into your mind just now. (If it did, no judgement from us – we’re all about tasty treats!) No. A true-blue, old-fashioned crafter of the finest of footwear. That’s what Jason Clapp is.
When you walk into his shop, called Mendocino Shoeworks, you breathe in the scent of leather. You see antique machines in one corner used to sew together sturdy leather uppers, medieval-looking awls and augers for poking holes and whatnot, and the very modern monster (called a “finisher”) in the back corner with whirlygigs and whizzing belts that is the heart of shoe making and shoe repairs today. In the middle of it all, Jason is probably leaning against his worktable, quietly contemplating what should come next with the shoe he’s currently working on. He looks up, greets you with a relaxed grin and “Welcome!” and saunters to the front – you can tell he’s completely at ease, totally comfortable in this world of boots and shoes.
At least, that was the scene the other day when we stopped by to drop off our favorite pair of old boots, which were in sore need of some new soles.
Now, because we always love to hear the story behind a good artist dedicated to a unique and fascinating craft, we couldn’t help but ask Jason, “Why a cobbler?” “Well,” he answered, “I didn’t start out in shoes.” He first began dabbling in leather goods as a young man in the Santa Cruz area, continuing on to make bags, belts, etc. for Viking festivals when he moved to Denmark in the early 90s. Due to a series of family events, he found himself in Mendocino in ’99, when he was introduced to local legend Paul Shulman, a mostly self-taught cobbler who had been making custom shoes around Northern California since the 70s.
This was the introduction that started it all. Jason quickly became Paul’s apprentice, learning the basics of shoemaking working side by side with his mentor. Jason’s skill and understanding of the craft strengthened, and by the time Paul retired, Jason was more than ready to carry on the tradition of shoemaking on his own.
Beyond making new shoes, Jason realized how great a need there was in the Mendocino community for shoe repairs, how many people really wanted to extend the life and usefulness of their most beloved pair of loafers or high heels. Once he got his own shop space around 2016, he started focusing more on this side of the trade, intent on helping keep well-loved shoes out of the landfill. As of now, he has done more than 2,000 repairs, “and those are the just ones I’ve managed to keep track of!” he smilingly exclaims.
The other aspect of shoemaking that Jason has become more involved with during the past several years is orthopedics. He’s been studying regularly with a retired orthopedic shoemaker, and he’s more fascinated every day with better figuring out how feet work, how to craft the best shoe for someone given his or her particular difficulties. “There are so many different techniques, shapes, and materials involved that can affect different walking patterns and postures – it’s incredibly interesting, beautiful even.”
We were due back at the inn soon to welcome all the guests checking in that afternoon, but we still had one final question swirling around. So as we picked up our things to go we asked, “What’s the most unusual shoe you’ve ever worked on?”
“That’s a hard one to answer,” he laughed. “Each foot and need is so unique. But wait!” He went to a back cupboard and brought out one he was going to start on soon. “Have you ever seen a shoe that size?! This guy wears a size 20!”
If you find yourself in need of emergency shoe repair during your stay with us, stop by Jason’s shop, which is tucked quietly between Albion Street and Main Street in the middle of Mendocino. He may need a day or two, depending on the type of repair. If you have special footwear needs, talk with him about his custom shoe work.
Written by Laura Hockett