A license plate hanging in his shop calls George Marinakes the “Sole Man.”

The word sole has a double meaning for the man widely known as the sole, or only, person repairing shoes in Wayne County and beyond for several years.

However, approaching his 95th birthday in May, Marinakes decided to hang up his tools and close the shop at 1030 E. Main St. in Richmond on Oct. 28.

George Marinakes celebrated with family members when Mayor Dave Snow honored him with a proclamation making Oct. 31 George Marinakes Day in Richmond. Supplied photo

George said his doctor encouraged him to slow down and enjoy his remaining time instead of reporting nearly every day to his workbench.

“You have a little more life to go, but you’re 95% done, so you should keep the next 5% for yourself,” he remembers hearing.

Although he’ll miss the steady stream of “great customers” and friends he made through the years at the shop, he’s looking forward to golf, fishing and travel, plus more time with his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

George gradually began declining complex projects before the shop’s last day. A small handwritten sign on the counter announced he was “RETIRING,” followed by “Not taking in shoes. Sorry.”

However, George is keeping the building that has been in his family since 1928 when his father opened the repair shop. He plans to pop in to check on it occasionally while his son Theodore, also known as Ted, considers his future plans.

George might help his son reopen the store if he decides to change professions and transition into shoe repair. Theodore has worked in the shop, and George notes that he has the skills to step into his father’s shoes if he chooses to do so.

In the meantime, longtime customers will need to deliver their projects to repair shops in larger cities such as Dayton or Indianapolis.

George’s parents traveled much farther to land in Richmond. They both came to the United States from Greece.

Shoes line a shelf inside George Marinakes’ shoe-repair shop. Photo by Millicent Martin Emery

They opened the shop in Richmond in September 1928, just months before George was born. It was then called “Up to Date Shoe Service.” George started working there at age 13, learning the trade and shining shoes.

Making shoes last and getting them repaired quickly were especially important during World War II because shoes were difficult to buy and many people usually owned two pairs.

The area had about 20 repair shops in the 1940s, including a few in Centerville, Lynn and Winchester, so competition was stiff for customers.

George’s father, also named Theodore, died in 1952. George’s time in the military was shortened and he came home to help his mother with the business. They offered various services, such as shoe dyeing, repairing zippers and fixing ripped coats.

In that era, downtown business owners wore dress shoes, suits and ties, but these days, George is more likely to be seen in a polo shirt and slacks.

“Today, we’re casual,” he said. “Times change.”

He noted that many styles of shoes today are made differently with features such as rubber soles, and they can’t be repaired like their predecessors.

One of the photos George Marinakes displayed in his shop was of George in military uniform with his father, Theodore, outside the Main Street shop. Photo (of photo) by Millicent Martin Emery

“I’m not going out because of that,” George emphasized. “We’re closing because Papa’s old,” he laughed.

Despite changes in the shoe industry, George still had plenty of customers. Several trickled in on his final days, unaware of his upcoming retirement. They were disappointed to learn he wasn’t taking on more work.

Few businesses remain open for 95 years in the same location. George attributes much of that longevity to his loyal clients, and said the appreciation is mutual.

He’s grateful he could raise a family with his late wife of 59 years, Mary, and send their children to school from the shop’s income.

He took satisfaction from helping people at what he thought was a fair price, even when other shops charge more for similar work.

“When you accomplish something and please your customer, I’m pleased,” he said.

Although he was willing to take on nearly any project that a customer needed, he had some favorites.

“I love to sew,” he said, especially enjoying work with purses, zippers and patches.

He also likes the opportunity to build up shoes for clients facing various challenges, such as one foot being shorter than another, arch issues or recovering from hip replacements or accidents, so they could walk more comfortably.

“When I see a smile on their face, I have a smile on my face,” he said.

One of the last pairs of shoes Marinakes repaired was for longtime customer Myra Crawford of Richmond. She needed to have some Velcro fixed on a pair of sandals. She and her husband, Chuck, have been bringing shoes to the shop for about 35 years.

Crawford credits Marinakes for making their footwear last longer and helping the couple save money.

“It’s a lost art we appreciate so much,” Crawford said about Marinakes’ shoe repair skills. “He’s a pleasure to work with and a joy to talk to.”

Crawford also noted Marinakes has deep knowledge about Richmond’s history. He was in his shop during the explosions of April 1968 at Sixth and Main, and also survived the subsequent changes to the downtown area.

George Marinakes poses inside the East Main Street shoe repair shop where he’s worked since he was 13. Photo by Millicent Martin Emery

He laments the departure of some large manufacturers from the city that previously was home to several local millionaire industrialists.

“Downtown needs a lot of help,” he said. “Too many stores have walked away.”

The shop’s walls and shelves are filled with a variety of mementos spanning decades, such as certificates from state leaders recognizing the business’ longevity and many family photos including one of George in his military uniform with his dad in front of the shop.

Another prominent photo showed George and Mary on a Hawaiian vacation. He thought she’d prefer Greece, since she was born there, but she wanted to see Don Ho perform, so to Hawaii they went.

Music has been a lifelong interest for George. He taught clarinet lessons at one time, directed the Tarum Shrine band and participated in parades. He also played in the band at the Odd Fellows Lodge. His community service also included 10 years on the Wayne County Board of Health.

New retiree named parade’s grand marshal

In recognition of his military service in the 1950s, 94-year-old George Marinakes was named grand marshal for this year’s veterans parade in Richmond. He’s been an American Legion member for more than 70 years.

The parade begins at 9 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 11, at Mary Scott Park, 105 N.W. Eighth St., followed by the traditional Veterans Day ceremony at 11 a.m. at Veterans Memorial Park, just north of the first block of East Main Street.

Richmond Mayor Dave Snow also honored Marinakes with a proclamation naming Oct. 31 as George Marinakes Day, saying he’d distinguished himself as a prolific citizen, volunteer and humanitarian.

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A version of this article appeared in the November 8 2023 print edition of the Western Wayne News.

Millicent Martin Emery is a reporter and editor for the Western Wayne News.