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Jefferson Park, Portage Park, Norwood Park

Old-School Northwest Side Cobbler Will Punch Holes In Your Belt For Free — But Please Pick Up Your Shoes

Christos "Chris" Seimenis has spent the past 33 years at West Irving Park Shoe Repair. An online review said the shop was “inappropriately inexpensive" given the quality of his work.

"Some charge $1.75 for punching a hole in a belt," Christos "Chris" Seimenis says. "I have never charged for it nor for putting a touch of glue on the shoe."
Joanna Marszałek/Block Club Chicago

PORTAGE PARK — At 73, Christos “Chris” Seimenis might not be the oldest shoe repairer in Chicago’s Northwest Side, but he may be the most old-fashioned and least expensive.

Seimenis has spent 45 years in the shoe business – the last 33 at West Irving Park Shoe Repair, 5903 W. Irving Park Rd. He’s so worried about overcharging that an online review called him “inappropriately inexpensive” given the quality of his work.

Seimenis will punch holes in your belt for free, whereas other shops may charge $2 a punch. And he’ll tell you not to bother fixing flimsy, faux-leather goods.

“Yes, I am cheap,” Seimenis said, laughing. “I told myself so many times, ‘Chris, you have to change. You have to get money in advance, like other shops do.’ But I guess I’m not going to change now.”

His shop, located in a building constructed in 1918, is filled with the smell of leather and wax, with original dark woodwork and half-century old iron stitchers. He answers a phone call before hurrying back to the long, messy counter filled with tools, sprays, heels and soles, wearing a worn-out blue apron over a perfectly pressed dress shirt.

“It’s Google, again. They call every day. They say, ‘don’t you want more business,’ and I tell them ‘No, I am fine the way I am.’ ” 

Seimenis attributes his many years in the business to his “common sense” and keeps things simple. He doesn’t do business online, and he doesn’t own a computer. He has a cell phone that he does “not know much about.” He only accepts cash, after a customer gave him a bad check for $7 a few years ago.

Even with his low prices, “people still complain,” Seimenis said. “I say $7 and they want $5. It is very discouraging.”

Seimenis’ practice of not collecting deposit fees can cause problems. Bags of unclaimed shoes sit on the floor and shelves of his shop. This is a challenge for most shoe repairers, he said. But he said some people get offended when he asks for a deposit. 

“’You don’t trust me?’ they say. So I get stuck with bags of shoes that nobody picks up. That’s $300 to $400 right there,” Seimenis said, pointing to the bags of sandals, heels and boots on the floor.

“I have bills to pay, too,” Seimenis said.

“I have always done stuff for nothing. Some charge $1.75 for punching a hole in a belt. I have never charged for it nor for putting a touch of glue on the shoe. It takes me 30 seconds,” Seimenis said. “Maybe that’s why I have not become a millionaire.”

Seimenis immigrated to Chicago from Greece as a teenager. He was a shoe salesman in his 20s when “Uncle Pete” – an older gentleman from his native village of Karyes – offered to teach him the trade. 

“He trained me for two months and one day he said, ‘You are on your own.’ I was terrified,” Seimenis recalled. 

He started to “play around” with shoes – using “some screws and some drill.” He worked in the suburbs and in Chicago, before he took over the shoe repair shop on Irving Park.

Seimenis believes that shoes are the most important piece of clothing one can own.

“A good shoe just feels good. You feel good when you own a good shoe. Plus, everybody looks at shoes … ladies always check the shoes first.”

Though he admits it’s a pleasure to work with nice quality leather shoes, he calls 80 percent of shoes brought to his shop “garbage shoes.”

“Plastic, poor quality, cheap, made in China,” Seimenis said. “You wouldn’t believe what comes in. People still expect me to fix them, even though a new pair costs $20. It’s a challenge because they will fall apart again. I see a lot of these shoes in this area.”

Occasionally, people come in with their Louboutins.

“They worship them. They think they own God. They won’t let you put a speck of dirt on them,” Seimenis said, shaking his head in disbelief. “These are good shoes but not for $1,000.”

When he reopened his shop after COVID-19-related closures last summer, Seimenis decided to take things slowly. He cut back hours and now closes at 2 p.m. He has a steady stream of customers, many of whom are regulars. He enjoys spending more time with his family and picking up his two grandchildren from school. He doesn’t have plans for the future.

“Health, family, see the little ones grow up. If I have money for my coffee, dinner and to go out with friends once in a while, that’s good enough for me,” Seimenis said.

A woman in hospital scrubs walks in with a bag full of things. Seimenis quickly diagnoses each item. “Don’t waste your money on this,” he said about a purse with a broken strap.

“And these?” a woman asked hopefully. “They are my favorite. I don’t know what happened to them.”

“Hmm, you’ve been dancing too much,” Seimenis said. “They will be ready in a week.” 

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