New Home For Old-Fashioned Shoe-repair Shop, John’s Shoes in Wilmette
PHOTO: JohnShoeStore_02 copy
CAPTION: John Katsidrinakis at home in his shoe store’s new home.
Joel Lerner/JWC Media
PHOTOGRAPHY BY JOEL LERNER
By Emily Spectre
The John of John’s Shoes, John Katsibrinakis, first arrived in Chicago about 45 years ago with one dollar in his pocket, far away from his native Greece. What he lacked in money he made up in a skill set to design, repair and sell shoes, skills he would rely on when he purchased a small shoe shop in Wilmette.
John’s Shoes recently relocated from its long-time home on Wilmette Avenue in downtown Wilmette to a newly outfitted storefront around the corner at 1128 Central Avenue.
Katsibrinakis first learned all aspects of the business, when he began working in a shoe factory at age 12. His father died after World War II, having worked as a slave laborer to the Nazis during the war. Katsibrinakis experience was difficult; working 10 hour days in a factory stitching shoes, and going to school at night.
But that experience taught him everything he knows about designing and repairing shoes. “He became good at it by observing what other people in the factory were doing,” Dina Katsibrinakis, who serves as a translator for her father, told DailyNorthShore.
Katsibrinakis later earned a degree in designing shoes in Greece, and then moved to Texas to start a shoe factory with a childhood friend. The factory never came to fruition, and Katsibrinakis decided to leave for better opportunity in Chicago, after realizing his friend had taken advantage of him. Through another friend, Katsibrinakis learned about a small shoe store for sale in Wilmette, and decided to purchase it.
For the past 45 years, John’s Shoes has been selling shoes and offering repair services for shoes, belt and bags — essentially anything leather. Katsibrinakis has established a reputation for personal service, that is becoming increasingly uncommon in a world dominated by e-commerce.
Katsibrinakis also has many loyal customers. “People love his repairs and his work and so they still come to him,” Dina said. Some of Katsibrinakis’s customers even come from places as far flung as California or Florida, because it is hard to find a good cobbler where they live.
Over 45 years Katsibrinakis has made a lot of repairs. The strangest request? Someone asked him to repair and design shoes for a dog.
But Katsibrinakis is also passionate about designing shoes. He has designed a variety of shoes, including a pair of sandals and boots that have a unique zippered pocket, to carry money or credit cards. Katsibrinakis also carries an assortment of brands such as Sebago, Rockport and Soft Spots, as well as Minnetonka, a brand popular with younger customers. Dina said she plans to go to a shoe show soon with her father, where they will look for some sneakers to attract the younger crowd.
Katsibrinakis has enjoyed working in Wilmette all of these years and is happy with his new location. The owners of Napolita — who are renovating his previous space for a new seafood restaurant — helped Katsibrinakis relocate to the new location and renovated the storefront.
While Katsibrinakis and his wife raised their two daughters in Chicago, Dina said the whole family has become attached to the village, where they’ve spent many years helping out at the store. “We love Wilmette. All of the people here feel like family,” Dina said.
Even all of these years later, Katsibrinakis remains passionate about his work. “He loves his job. He does not have a favorite. He loves selling shoes and repairing shoes. That is why he has stuck with this job for so long,” Dina said.
John’s Shoes is located at 1161 Wilmette Avenue and open Monday through Friday 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. and Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.