Q&A with Mark Webling

March 27, 2013 

City of Residence: Kathleen

Occupation: Owner, Mark’s Shoe and Luggage Hospital

QUESTION: How did you get into repairing shoes?

ANSWER: I’m fourth generation. I learned from my dad, Stan, he from his dad and on back.

QUESTION: Talking to you, it doesn’t sound like you learned here.

ANSWER: No, we’re originally from London. We came over here in 1984. We fell in love with America and wanted to live here and ended up in Georgia. It’s been very good to us.

QUESTION: In England, was there a single shop your family ran that went back generations?

ANSWER: There were multiple shops through the years depending on how many were in the family. We eventually were in East Anglia in Mildenhall where there was a U.S. base. That’s how we got to know a lot of Americans.

QUESTION: Is that what got you here?

ANSWER: We had four vacations here. The first was to visit my sister who was over on a student exchange program. She was on the West Coast, but as soon as we got off the plane we felt at home. We’re heat freaks. Most people in England work all year to spend a week in Spain where it’s warm.

QUESTION: Did that Air Force connection bring you to Warner Robins?

ANSWER: We were visiting friends who had been at Robins Air Force Base then retired here. We’d stopped on our way to Disney World but read an ad in the Atlanta Journal about a shoe shop that had gone out of business and was for sale. We decided on the spur of the moment to buy it and move the equipment here. We’d gotten here on a Thursday and a week later had opened up shop. We were the guests who came and never left.

QUESTION: What made you want to be in the U.S.?

ANSWER: Honestly, two things. It was our contact with Americans and their general attitude that “we can do that.” It’s that positive attitude. Then when got here and the sheer massive size of the country makes you feel you could do anything. It’s very cool to feel that way, and after 29 years I don’t really feel any different.

QUESTION: Were you married here or in England?

ANSWER: I met my wife here. In fact, she was passing through as well. She lived in California and was visiting her grandparents here. Her truck broke down, and she had to stay awhile to get it fixed.

QUESTION: So did you go to school to learn repair, or was it a classic apprentice situation?

ANSWER: I learned it all from my dad starting with sweeping floors as a youngster. Unfortunately, my dad passed away in 2006. My mum still works here at the shop.

QUESTION: Your shop may have moved across an ocean but still must have the same look and same smell -- leather and polish.

QUESTION: It’s in my blood. I don’t notice it at all unless I’ve been away awhile, which is rare. Years ago we repaired far more shoes than luggage, but now it’s about half and half; that and backpacks, purses and other leather goods.

QUESTION: What’s your most common repair?

ANSWER: Replacing shoe’s heels.

QUESTION: What’s the most common question you hear?

ANSWER: Can you fix this?

QUESTION: You’re a shopkeeper, businessman and craftsman. What do you like best?

ANSWER: I’m a cobbler. Running the business is part, but the paperwork bores me silly. I don’t like it. I’m a cobbler, a leather worker. I fix stuff for people.

QUESTION: How has cobbling changed through the years?

ANSWER: Younger people tend not to realize you can, in fact, fix stuff. People of my generation have grown up not fixing stuff because they could afford new stuff. Everything became disposable. Now kids don’t even know you can fix it. In a slow economy, people start thinking again about repairing items rather than getting new. But as far as the work itself, it hasn’t changed much. We do the same things but a little quicker.

QUESTION: What’s the oldest piece of equipment you’re using in the shop?

ANSWER: Right now, it’s a sewing machine-patcher from the 1940s, and I have one out back that’s from 1920. It’s still in excellent working order. Frankly, I prefer not slapping an electric motor on everything -- I’d rather have the control of something you can stop with your foot or hand. This one is a one-horse-power machine, and I’m the horse.

QUESTION: What would the oldest piece of equipment you had in England be?

ANSWER: Probably my grandfather’s patcher, but I wouldn’t even hazard a guess how old it was.

QUESTION: How is business? What’s your production like?

ANSWER: We average writing about 40 to 50 tickets a day on items to be repaired. About half of those are on multiple repairs. We also get shoes mailed in from all over the country. We even had a pair sent by a serviceman in South America who wasn’t happy with the work done there. It’s great to get that kind of commendation.

QUESTION: Glad you stayed?

ANSWER: Very much.

QUESTION: What’s your location and phone number?

ANSWER: We’re at 2218 Watson Boulevard. Number is 328-8162.

Compiled by Michael W. Pannell. Contact him at mwpannell@gmail.com.

The Telegraph is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service