My favorite artifact in our local Watkins Museum is a wall hanging made from autographed worn out soles from the former Burgert’s Shoe Service. I know from personal experience that each sole describes what its owner is like, how they walk, whether they are rough or delicate, and how well they try to maintain things. In aggregate, this off-beat, folk-art wall hanging in the shape of a giant worn out sole is a collection of short stories about those who walked the sidewalks of downtown Lawrence for three quarters of a century.
Burgert’s repair shop operated for 75 years across from the courthouse at 1113 Massachusetts street. According to city directories, shoe repair shops outnumbered shoe stores during the first half of the twentieth century. For instance, when the Burgert shop opened in 1911, there were 12 shoe repair shops and 7 shoe stores. Shoes were an investment you would maintain. They were not disposable. For the most part they were handmade in a labor intensive manner. As a culture we valued labor. Now, instead of buying a few extremely well made shoes, we buy lots of shoes that are designed to be tossed and replaced. One of the things I like about Birkenstock is that they are designed to be repaired and we offer that service.
According to Burgert’s repair tickets, they repaired more than a million shoes between 1911 and 1988. Hazel and Lloyd Burgert were too busy repairing shoes to make this sculpture. It had to wait until they retired.