Surrounded By New Development, Lehi Shoe Repair Business Lives On
LEHI, Utah – The sight of construction and development is a common sight across Utah. But for one Lehi shoe repair business, that change hasn’t come just yet.
“What’s going on over there, I can’t believe it,” Dax Williamson said, talking about the explosion of development around Utah County. “My grandpa lived at the mouth of Provo Canyon, and so we spent a lot of time at the lake. Back then it was all hot pots and fields; we’d shoot rabbits and pheasant hunt. Now, it’s all condos and houses and madness.”
Williamson doesn’t react with anger — it’s more of a sense of bewilderment, with a touch of disdain. To him, the durable just didn’t seem to endure.
“I think we’ve just kind of gone into a throwaway world,” he said. “Throw your shoes in the garbage and go buy another pair for thirty bucks.”
Williamson still stands watch over what used to be. He mans one of the final outposts — the last shreds of a settlement in a fresh frontier.
His personal guard tower hasn’t changed much, even if the world outside has. He runs a place called Lucky Sole Shoe Repair, right on Lehi’s Main Street. In the “throwaway world” he spoke of, there’s still a steady stream of customers turning to his knowledge, hoping to breathe a bit of life into their worn footwear.
“Most of these tools were my grandpa’s and Uncle Vern’s tools,” he said while dipping a brush into a container caked in dried glue. “I think this glue pot’s been in the family for 60 years.”
On this day, Williamson marveled at the pair of boots he was working on. Several gaping holes ran right through the soles.
“I normally would say no to this, but she was so adamant about her boots,” he said.
Williamson was “pretty much raised in a shoe shop.” He has fond memories of huddling around a gas heater as a child, learning to run whatever machines the family would allow.
“It’s kind of a creativity builder,” he said. “There’s scrap leather everywhere. If you’ve got any kind of creativity at all, it’s kind of a paradise.”
Williamson is hardly stuck in the past, but he couldn’t help but bemoan the changes he’s seen happen over the years.
“It’s kind of sad to see it,” he said. “Walmarts and everything are kind of just taking over. Back in the 60s and 70s, they built shoes to be rebuilt.”
The customers still come. Williamson said it’s due, in part, to those he calls Lehi’s “good old boys,” who get attached to their boots and belts. Even a pair of high heels looking to have a strap shortened isn’t out of the ordinary. In fact, trying to carry on a conversation with Williamson can be a bit of a challenge, due to the constant ringing of bells attached to a metal rodeo rider on the front door.
He’s been able to hold back the hands of time, but change has been creeping through that same door.
“We’ve been going over a bit of a roller coaster, trying to keep our clientele and customers happy, because I can’t be here all the time,” Williamson said.
The door opens before he can finish his sentence. One of his next customers repeats a familiar refrain, immediately asking about the “old guy” and why he isn’t here.
“We retired him, moved him in with my sister,” Williamson replied.
His father, known around town as “Willie,” was once a regular sight behind the counter. Now with an oxygen tank as his companion, he’s seen better days.
“Constantly, on a daily basis, people are coming in here, ‘Where’s Willie, where’s the old man?”’ Williamson said. “It got to the point where it was just a lot of work for him to get here, and he wasn’t getting the work done.”
With his father only available by phone to help with a particularly challenging repair job, Williamson has been trying to keep up with the workload. But he has a full-time job at Alta, meaning a decision cast a long shadow down Main Street.
“Well, should we keep it open, or should we sell the property, or you know, what should we do with it?” he asked.
And keeping the “family” in the family business wasn’t what Willie wanted.
“He wanted us to kind of do our own thing,” he said. “He just thinks that you’d be better off working somewhere you could make a little more money. Here, you really got to work hard to make a living out of it.”
You can call it nostalgia, sentimentality or a stubborn refusal to sell. But regardless of the reason, Williamson refused to let the future sweep his shoes aside. He continues to fix footwear whenever he can, even taking in the occasional pair of overly ventilated boots.
“We can’t lose traditions like this, because it’s good to have around,” he said. “I really love it. You’re working for yourself, working with your hands, and you’re pleasing the community.”
The backlog may loom large, and change may be inescapable. But, at least for now, one man is saying, “not today.”
“I couldn’t see it go away,” Williamson said. “There’s a lot of history and a lot of culture here in Lehi. If we keep this place going, we’re trying to keep a lot of it alive.”
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