At Bryant Shoe Service, a good soul

In a life spent giving new life to shoes and joy to customers, Jon Egbert gives up his business to fight cancer

A long note taped to an ancient cash register notifies customers of the Bryant Shoe Service that Jon Egbert will no longer run the store. Shortly before Christmas, Egbert was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and recently began chemotherapy. Steve Plaster, Egbert’s friend since 4th grade, is taking over the store to ensure it remains a fixture in the East Harriet neighborhood.

Plaster said that although the 52-year-old Egbert will be at the 4310 Bryant Ave. S. shop when he can, his absence would be tough for him and for his customers, who often ask about his condition. "It’s bittersweet for me," Plaster said. "I can’t get excited about taking the shop. It’s Jon’s shop, and it probably always will be Jon’s shop in some way."

The ‘shoe wizard’

After working on and off for Egbert over the years, Plaster came to work at the shop full-time six years ago. He said Egbert is a "shoe wizard" known for working miracles on whatever he fixed. "He’s probably the best in the city,"

Plaster said.

Kenny resident Pat Hagan used to live a block away from the shop and said he’s been going to Egbert for general repairs for more than 15 years. "He’s definitely a South

Minneapolis treasure," he said.

Hagan described Egbert as a quiet man with a proud work ethic. He said Egbert is an ecologist of sorts, always recycling things. He referenced an old pair of boots he’d had since high school. Hagan said he brought them in to Egbert, who made a wallet out of them. "What a guy," he said.

Plaster said that Egbert always does the little things, such as put in extra supportive stitching to ensure shoes would last longer. "Most places probably wouldn’t do that," he said.

Hagan said Egbert has a knack for really connecting with his customers in his own quiet way. "After a while, he knows your name and your shoe. He can remember the shoe you brought in before you can grab your ticket," he said.

Egbert said he learned the shoe-repair trade in 1970 at a Minneapolis vocational school. He said he likes the repair business because there’s always something different to be done. Following his training, Egbert said he began repairing shoes at a shop in Richfield’s Hub shopping center in 1976. When the couple who owned the store retired, he took over the business.

Although the Hub was a busy location, Egbert said he longed to be closer to East Harriet, where he grew up and still lives. So in 1980, he moved his business two blocks from his current home, taking over the shoe-repair store then occupied by Roy Petersen. "(The shop) is very much a part of the neighborhood," Egbert said.

He said his neighborhood location has served him well over the years, and he feels honored by his customers’ loyalty. "I think it’s important to have businesses in the neighborhood and have people support them," he said. "When you lose a neighborhood business because they don’t get support, you lose something in the

neighborhood."

A second life

Lynnhurst resident Donna Peter said she has been bringing her shoes to the East Harriet shop for over 20 years. She said Egbert’s shop is the best in town, and Egbert’s repairs have become a staple service for her family. "My daughter is grown now, and she brings her stuff and her friends’ stuff in (to the shop)," Peter said.

She said she favors the shop, because she likes supporting a neighborhood store. Peter said she’s enjoyed watching Egbert’s children grow, as he has updated pictures hanging behind the register for all to see. Nostalgia aside, Peter said she’s been loyal to the shop because of Egbert’s skill.

"He can fix anything — things you think will be thrown away," she said.

Kingfield resident Lynda McDonnell said like many loyal customers, that Egbert fixed many things she thought were too far-gone. She said she’s brought everything from shoes to purses to the friendly shoeman — even a few backpacks. "The thing about Jon is this devotion to take things and give them a second life," McDonnell said.

The strategy of repair

Egbert said although shoe repair is his specialty, he often fixes all sorts of things. He said he’s mended everything from horse collars to girdles, but by far the strangest repair was a cooking pot.

One day an old man came into the store with the pot, Egbert recalled. It was missing the handle because the man’s wife kept burning her hand when using it. "Because I’d fixed all sorts of other things, he thought I could make a handle for the pot and I did, out of wood," Egbert said.

Plaster said the creative problem-solving that Egbert exudes is one of the qualities he’s always admired in his friend, and something they enjoy doing together. "We’re a great partnership," he said. "We’d sit down and look at something and talk about ways to fix it."

Without Egbert at the shop regularly, Plaster said there is a backlog of repair work. But he said he’s up to the challenge and confident in the training Egbert gave him. Plaster said that taking over the shop will be a challenge, but he hopes to carry on Egbert’s tradition of innovation and quality.

Aside from modifying hours, which are now Tuesday-Friday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. and Saturday 9 a.m.-1 p.m., he said he has no desire to change a thing about the shop. "Why change something? It’s been very successful the way it is," Plaster said.

He knows Egbert is the reason the shop has stayed so popular. "I don’t think Jon realized the impact he really had on the community," Plaster said.

Still seemingly shy and humble, Egbert said, "It’s been very gratifying to have that support from my customers. They’re my friends, too."