WESTBOROUGH — There’s no webpage, email, computer or need for high technology at the Arcade Shoe Repair, 3 West Main St.
Instead, there’s owner Bill Horne, who for 50 years has polished, stitched, dyed and re-soled customers’ shoes and sundries inside his modest storefront on the town rotary.
Horne, a Worcester resident, says practicing his trade “feels more like a hobby than work. I actually consider it my therapy.”
While he chuckles at some of the wackier jobs he has tackled – from whips to speed skates – Horne has run the business virtually unchanged since 1972 when he bought it from his wife’s grandfather, also a cobbler.
Those were the heady days of Bay State Abrasives when Horne could put in up to 70 hours a week.
“I try to keep it as it was,” he said of the exposed wood floors, mechanical cash register and 1890 pie-tin ceilings.
The mechanical grime from shoe polish and repair make it the ultimate man cave.
There’s a black and white cowhide stretched across one wall that a customer gave Horne in the late 1970s and a boa constrictor skin uncoiled and pegged on the other. A leather saddle rests on a rack amid equine gear and on a high shelf sits a jug of yellow liquid that Horne found in the basement.
“Oh, that’s cider,” he said with a laugh. “It used to belong to a plumber, who worked down there 40 years ago.”
While he repairs many items by hand, from sewing on snaps to fixing handbags, several vintage power tools occupy floorspace in Horne’s shop. A 1942 Landis K Goodyear machine stitches the outside of shoes. An auto soler sews the inside of shoes and a compressor flattens the sole.
On a recent Saturday with temperatures in the single digits, Horne was working alone behind plexiglass as he repaired a pair of Red Wing boots.
The past few years have not been easy. The pandemic resulted in a drop in volume as loyal customers worked remotely from home. More difficult was Horne’s wife growing ill with dementia, necessitating a move to assisted living.
In the early days of COVID, Horne limited his business hours so he wouldn’t risk infecting his wife, whom he visits daily.
When a local Facebook group, Wicked Wise Women of Westborough, heard he might close due to his wife’s illness, it organized and supplied gift cards, well wishes, treats, money and pleas to not retire.
“It was overwhelming,” Horne said. “I still can’t believe what they did for us. They were very generous.”
Now vaccinated and donning a mask with customers, Horne is back in business from 8 a.m. to noon Thursdays through Saturdays.
“On the other days I come in to do the work, but stay closed to customers so I can come and go as I please,” he says.
His brother-in-law, Ron Parker, helps out with the business end a few days a month. Lisa Smith, another friend, has assisted Horne in the same capacity for years.
Beside them, it has been a one-man operation because it has to be, said Parker.
“Billy’s too humble to call out what he really is, which is a craftsman. Only he can do the work he does. He’s still climbing on top of machines to get stuff off of high shelves,” he said, shaking his head. “And you should see the joy people get out of having their favorite pair of shoes fixed and given new life.”
Horne looks up over his glasses as a fire engine roars by. At 79, he says he doesn’t intend to quit.
“I really am grateful for my time here and plan to keep on working for as long as I can,” he said.