A Farewell To John’s Shoe Shop

A Farewell To John's Shoe Shop

Brandy Bones

They have the cheapest selection of Colgate apparel around. They currently are running a sale on lacrosse footwear – 50% percent off and by the looks of the dingy sign that hangs in the window, it’s a sale that’s been running for a while.

They also have been ‘closing’ for a few years now, but this time around they mean it. After 49 years – it would have been 50 this February – John’s Shoe Shop is officially closing its doors come December.

Proprietors Judy and Mayfred Plesniarski have called it quits, closing a second generation shop dating all the way back to 1932 when Mayfred’s father John moved to Hamilton. Originally from Poland, John opened his shoe shop and repair service above Hengst Meat Market where The Hour Glass now stands. Judy’s local roots run even deeper. She comes from six generations of Madison County residents. The two live in the same Lebanon Street residence which they moved into a week before they were married in September 1948.

By 1956, the business required expansion. Across the street and half a block down, John’s Shoe Shop moved to its present location. And there, Judy and Mayfred have been open for business Monday through Saturday from half past eight to half past five serving the customers who drop in for a shoe repair or a look around.

John’s Shoe Shop does things the old fashioned way. They have never had a phone or needed one and they know all of their customers’ names and shoe sizes.

When their son Jimmy, now principal of Sherburne Elementary school, was six years old he started playing on the first peewee hockey league at Colgate. With nowhere to buy hockey equipment in the area, the Plesnarskis’ added hockey equipment to their merchandise line and in no time they were selling everything from cross-country and downhill skis to snowshoes and lacrosse equipment.

Four times a week, after a full day of work, Mayfred traveled up the hill to pick up and drop off shoe repairs, running up and down through each of the dorm buildings yelling, “John’s Shoe Repair! Call for and deliver!” To this day, alumni visiting Colgate drop by the store and fondly remember this familiar call. Mayfred also kept regular appointments with fraternities, displaying to them the newest styles in men’s shoes and taking custom made orders.

In the days before a co-educational Colgate, Judy and Mayfred chaperoned Beta Theta Pi parties. Chaperones were required to be at least 21 years old and married. As a young couple, Judy and Mayfred enjoyed dinner and cocktails at the house and a good time with the Beta brothers. The parties ended at one in the morning when the proctor came around to kick out all of the girls. Three or four of them would return with Judy and Mayfred to spend the night at their house.

“We got to know a lot of kids that way and we knew a lot of hockey players from selling them their equipment and repairing their skates,” recalled Judy. “There was one hockey player, a Canadian, who broke his skates so many times Mayfred got sick of repairing them. So Mayfred sat him down and taught him how to repair his own shoes.”

For the average Colgate student years ago, John’s Shoe Shop was a regular stop downtown and many dropped in just to sit around and chat about sports. Business from Colgate students has certainly dropped off since earlier days. “It wasn’t because the girls came,” explained Judy, “that didn’t change things – we actually got more business when the girls came. It’s more that you’ve got Ebay now and the internet. The kids still buy darts and ping pong balls, but it isn’t the same.”

It will probably be the Hamiltonians who will miss it most. “We bought everything there for the kids from mittens and hats, to boots and hockey equipment,” recalls Judy Fisher who works at Colgate Career Services. “If we didn’t have that place, I don’t think we ever would have made it. They let you pay as you go and even when you tried to pay your bill, they’d ask, ‘are you sure you want to pay it now?’ I’m sure a lot of people around here would have had a hard time making it without them.”

That is the kind of shop Mayfred and Judy own, the kind of shop that seems to be going out of business everywhere. Hamiltonians will surely miss Judy and Mayfred stopping them on the street to tell them about a new pair of boots that they might like. Many current Colgate students have probably never taken notice of the quaint store between Julie’s Curtain Call and BLANK, with the withered, handwritten sale signs and shoes lining the sidewalk during open hours and tolerable weather. For those of us who have perused the chaos of John’s Shoe Shop and perhaps purchased a pair of five dollar sandals, roller skates, ping pong ball or even had a pair of shoes repaired by Mayfred’s nimble hands, we will miss John’s Shoe Shop. It is one of the last relics of a lost era when customers and shopkeeper knew each other’s names, each other’s family history and forgave a bill for as long as necessary, knowing payment would come when it came.

By mid December, Mayfred and Judy Plesniarski will be enjoying a well-deserved, long awaited retirement by taking a vacation basking in the sun of warmer climates, perhaps. The building escaped the grasp of Colgate and was purchased by Ed Audi, Colgate alumnus and owner of Stickley Furniture in Fayetteville.

First-year Natali Plenarski, Colgate field hockey player and granddaughter of Judy and Mayfred, remembers growing up in the store, playing pool in the basement, and getting her shoes there since she was a baby. “I hate to see it change,” she says, “but I am glad for my grandparents that they will have more time to enjoy their lives. I love them very much.”

For those who will miss the shop, one can travel a tad north to Richmond, Vermont – twenty minutes south of Burlington – where daughter Cindy carries on the family tradition at her own store called, quite naturally, John’s Shoe Shop North.