Faith & Family

Fixing soles and reaching souls

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Johnathon Daily

It was always interesting to me how the sole of a shoe wears based on the wearer’s journey – where they went, what they did, how aggressive they were, or how laid back. Now in the line of work I have chosen to embrace (as a modern-day cobbler or cordwainer), I think about such things even more, but in a spiritual sense. 

How does my own soul wear? Is it thin? Full of holes? Or, is it so completely walked out that there is nothing left? Did I lean too far to the right or the left? Did I drag my feet? Or, did I just run so hard that there is nothing left? 

Sounds like two different stories entirely, but the more I look at soles and how we treat them, the more I see people and what life has given them. Mike Fitzgerald is unique in this perspective in that life has given him a road most could not walk; and, somehow, he has done it and come out shining with the love of God all over him. 

When I first walked into Fitzgerald Shoe Shop in Sylva, I was pleasantly greeted by the smell of leather and the feeling of walking back into a time that we have lost. Honestly, in many ways, I think it is a time that most of us long to return to. When I stepped into this mysterious time warp, I could feel myself seeing things from a different perspective. Things slowed down, everything was clearer; the hustle and bustle of today and all the bad news that floods our airwaves were left outside the door. Magically, the doorbell that chimes upon entry seemed to have closed it out. While inside the 110-year-old business, we were in a different world. A quieter world, a simpler world. A world that I believe many of us want but just can’t find.

JOHNATHON DAILEY recently became the owner of the 110-year-old Fitzgerald’s Shoe Shop, which was own and operated for more than three decades by Mike Fitzgerald, who will continue for a few more months to assist Dailey, as well as Dailey’s apprentice-in-training Caleb Trost. Pictured (L-R) are Dailey, Fitzgerald and Trost.

As I walked through the shop, around 30 feet from the front to the cash register I noticed boots, belts, and leather bags. I could hear the machines in the back, but I also noticed laughter and peace. It is not just the cool old machines, the leather goods, the bridles, and the tack that bring you back to another time. In my opinion, it is the soul of Mike Fitzgerald. As he repairs the soles of many, he shares what dwells deep within his soul, and it is good. 

Mike was never given easy, nor from what I can see did he choose it. And, to be honest, he has thrived in the deepest valleys and on the highest peaks. When he has customers come in, he sees more than just a broken shoe. 

He sees a person.

He sees a soul.

Some less worn than others, but all are beloved by God. Today, that is a perspective that we seem to have missed in the modern rush to survive. But Mike does not miss an opportunity to listen, to engage with, and to have time for all those who wander into his shop. 

Having lived around lives that are given to the call of God, I have seen the typical scenario of being a missionary, preacher or a priest. Not that any of those calls are less or not-at-all effective. I am grateful for all those who followed that call and helped me find my way. But, I do see an example of a life lived, that is as much a call of God as the pulpit or the mission field. The call that I see in Mike Fitzgerald is one that ministers to his neighbors, to his town, and to anyone who just happens to walk through his door. His calling is a daily commitment to the people he encounters at work, even when life attacks the people he loves the most, his family. 

To see Mike, you must see the picture that sits above the desk in the back of the shop showing him holding his son, or view the pictures of his children and grandchildren. When I see those pictures, I see a man who is filled with the love of God and who pours it out wherever he is in each separate moment. That love that Mike shares so freely is what makes Fitzgerald’s Shoe Shop the beautiful time warp that it is.

CALEB TROST, nephew of Fitzgerald Shoe Shop’s new owner, Johnathon Dailey, learns the age-old and oft-long-forgotten skills of a cobbler.

As I move forward in my purchase of Fitzgerald Shoe Shop, I realize I am not just purchasing a business. I am purchasing a life of surrender – a life that has always seemed to put others first. I am buying a lifetime of good works and kindness to the community. In this realization, I see that I have a bigger responsibility than just fixing shoes and random knickknacks that come through the door. I have a responsibility to help rebuild lives and souls as Mike has done for 35 years. 

People are more than just their shoes; these people that visit the shop, with their worn-out footwear, are sons and daughters of the King on their journey back to Him. I see my job as someone to repair their gear, be it shoes or bags or whatever so that they can make the journey home to Him.

What an honor to be part of the journey of so many people as they return to the one that loves them most. Repairing soles and preparing them for the walk ahead – what a gift from God and Mike Fitzgerald to allow me to serve the people of these beautiful mountains in such a profound way. For this and many other blessings in my life, I am grateful to God for the grace, mercy, and the favor He has given me. 

Johnathon Dailey is the new owner of Fitzgerald Shoe Shop in Sylva, the only true, old-fashioned shoe repair business in the area.