In a small corner storefront on the City of Erie’s west side, Rudy Rodriguez is doing more than repairing shoes – he’s living the American dream.
The El Salvador native and his wife, Adriana, have run Rudy’s Shoe Repair since 2015 – a decade after Rudy came to the United States.
His path to becoming a business owner is, as Adriana describes, “quite providential.”
After experiencing problems with his feet, he saw a local podiatrist and then was referred to Walk Rite, a local store that offers footwear and other services for people with foot problems. There, with the help of Walk Rite owner Nathaniel Zimmerman, Rudy started training to learn how to make custom orthotics – and thus the dream began.
“As soon as I started training, I just fell in love with it,” says Rudy, who worked as a tailor in El Salvador. “I saw so much potential.”
Soon, he was working full-time out of the Walk Rite shop, filling a need for shoe repair in Erie.
Before long, Rudy’s Shoe Repair expanded into its own space, at the corner of West 26th and Myrtle streets.
Since then, business has been steadily growing, mostly by word of mouth.
Now, looking around the workshop, crowded with shoes in for repair, Rudy and Adriana see another possible move in their future – an expansion of their successful enterprise to a larger storefront, maybe one with living space above for their family.
When asked if he ever expected to be an entrepreneur – “empresario,” or businessman, as Adriana explained in Spanish – Rudy’s answer is clear: Never. He never pictured himself owning his own business.
But now, with his shop doing a steady business by filling a niche in Erie, perhaps he has realized a dream he never knew he had.
About Rudy’s Shoe Repair: Though the shop started out by only repairing shoes, now they take on all manner of leather products – purses, jackets, luggage, belts, saddles, even furniture. The workshop features a mix of old equipment, picked up secondhand, and new machines that the owners have invested in. As business has grown, so has the need for help. As a result, Rudy’s is no longer a one-man operation. Though Adriana also works a full-time job, she also helps out at the shop, and they also have two part-time employees. Rudy’s Shoe Repair also recently joined the Erie Regional Chamber & Growth Partnership.
Why Erie County: Rudy and Adriana both say that Erie County – and its people – have been very good to them. That includes the training and guidance Rudy received in starting the business, and it carries through today, when they exchange referrals with other local businesses and rely on a network of mentors to help them as they continue to learn the trade. In addition, they have found it is simply a good place to raise their two children, ages 2 and 6. “A lot of people say there is not much in Erie – but there is. You just have to look a little, and you’ll find great things,” Rudy says.
Challenges of Erie County: The challenges that Rudy’s Shoe Repair faces are not unique to the county, or unique to shoe repair. Rather, it’s the burden of any small business owner who wears many hats – greeting and helping customers, filling orders, doing the finances, etc. In addition, Rudy says he works hard to adjust to the differences in culture and language that distinguish his new home from his native country.
Coming up next week: We visit Hoffman Industrial, the oldest rigging company in the United States.