Old School Jobs That Still Work

Toll booth collectors, travel agents, secretaries, stenographers are not exactly growth careers for young people. Technology has made those careers obsolete. Other jobs are no longer useful, because we replace items — rather than repair them — because the cost of the item has become so cheap thanks to globalization. Is anybody a vacuum cleaner repair man anymore?

But there are some old school jobs that seem to be holding strong.

Yesterday, I dropped off two pairs of shoes at the town’s cobbler. An old pair needed a new heel. A new pair needed stretching. Three guys were in the back hammering away in a cluttered space with shoe boxes piled sky high. I paid in cash and was given a red ticket stub to pick up the shoes in two days.

This business seems to be doing well. There are some cobblers in my state who make in six figures, though the average is around $48K. With all the cheap shoes at Target and Kohl’s, why aren’t these guys going the way of vacuum cleaner repairmen?

Wealthy people spend a lot of money on their shoes. Steve said that some guys in his office wear $500 shoes. And everybody hates breaking in new pairs of shoes. I have one pair of shoes that pre-dates my first child; they are so comfortable that I get them reheeled every five years. Also, middle-of-the-road shoes don’t go out of style. A loafer is a loafer.

(More to come)


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25 thoughts on “Old School Jobs That Still Work

  1. Anything with real soles and you need a cobbler. Because tendons are stupid, I had to switch to hiking shoes for all but actual formal occasions, but it feels wasteful to throw away shoes when the upper is good just because the sole is gone.

  2. Interested in how many people have had their shoes re-heeled or repaired. My daughter has a couple of pairs of shoes that I think should be reheeled, but it’s something I’ve never done before. My shoes generally last forever (I don’t do a lot of walking) and when they need to go, the shoe itself degenerates (because I wear them all sockless), rather than a fixable failure.

    I think your category, which you are calling “regular jobs” are really jobs that serve the wealthy. Some of these jobs are businesses, ones that people might be able to manage into decent incomes for themselves. But that requires business skills as well as the actual skill and serving the economically strongest market. For example, I see high end tutoring as being a potential growth area. My kiddo, in learning the marketplace, has been annoyed/troubled that her peers who chose tutoring of wealthy contacts (i.e. friends of family, junior classmates, . . . .) can make far more money than her work with special needs kids. We’ve discussed why — two reasons are that the rich families have more money to pay and that the results are measurable (in grades or test scores).

  3. I wear my $50, $100 (now maybe $200, but I sometimes manage to buy them on sale) for 15+ years. But, these are women’s shoes (and I like variety), many casual, so I don’t know how I’d balance if I wore one shoe all the time. Spouse discards his shoes, but he works in a casual enough environment that his current shoe of choice are Hoka ones. And buying Yeezy’s for anything other than status is, I think, not a good return on investment. I’m open to the possibility that in some environment, buying for status might be worth it, but not the ones I prefer.

    1. bj said,

      “I’m open to the possibility that in some environment, buying for status might be worth it, but not the ones I prefer.”

      You’re on the West Coast, so you’d probably get a lot more mileage out of a really nice raincoat.

  4. We had this discussion about cars, too, didn’t we? I still think that something I elusively call “quality” is worth paying for, if you can afford it (actually, the same argument I made about college). But, I think that “afford” and “quality” are both difficult to define.

    1. bj,

      It’s definitely a sliding scale, both with regard to “quality” and “afford”.

      For example, I’m really looking forward to replacing our KIA with a Toyota minivan over the next several years. Not that the KIA wasn’t a good deal when we got it and hasn’t provided good value for our $12k when we bought it 5 years ago, but we have had to deal with more hassles than a Toyota-owner would.

      1. I was once a Toyota owner. You’re making assumptions.

        Their marketing is very good. That’s all I’ll say.

      2. My Toyotas have been great. A 1989 Corolla, a 2002 Corolla, and a 2018 Corolla Eco. I’m thinking I’ll get my fourth one around the time I retire between 2030-2035 and drive it until I can’t drive anymore.

      3. We’ve owned two of those Toyota Minivans. We like them. But, they are not without maintenance. Biggest annoyance, in the all-wheel drive model is that tires had to be regularly replaced (and, when one goes, all four need to be replaced). We had some issues with the automatic sliding doors, too. And the dashboard entertainment/GPS system has started to crash on the 6 year old Sienna. But, I can’t compare them to a KIA.

      4. Cranberry said, “I was once a Toyota owner. You’re making assumptions. Their marketing is very good. That’s all I’ll say.”

        Say it ain’t so!

        What would you recommend, in terms of being low-hassle?

      5. VWs and Volvos have been low-hassle. But that could be luck of the draw. I would look at JD Power for minivan surveys. (looks) For 2019, the leader in that category is the 2016 Chrysler Town & Country.

        Toyota Sienna scores well too. When we owned a Sienna, I figured people didn’t complain about issues because the dealers were quick to repair the flaws.

    2. I’ve had good experience with my RAV-4, but I know two people who’ve regretted buying the Sienna.

  5. Laura said, ” Other jobs are no longer useful, because we replace items — rather than repair them — because the cost of the item has become so cheap thanks to globalization. Is anybody a vacuum cleaner repair man anymore?”

    I think part of that is also that the uber-frugal do a lot of that sort of repair themselves. My husband does probably 80% of our repairs in-house.

    However, I am about to pay a guy $400 to remove a medium-sized dead tree near my house. My neighbors paid thousands ($4000?) to have a massive tree removed that was hanging over the kid side of their house.

    I’m also in the process of collecting estimates for a skylight/roof repair, which is going to be in the neighborhood of $2600.

    bj said, “Interested in how many people have had their shoes re-heeled or repaired.”

    I’ve resoled Birkenstocks before (in an inner city Hispanic neighborhood), but I will probably just buy new in future because the savings is not huge.

    However, now that I have my first rich lady purse (which I paid the for-me eye-popping sum of $248 for), I do have plans to replace the straps as they wear out, which will probably entail a visit to the inner city shoe repair guy, if he’s still around. If the body of the purse is in good shape, it would be worth at lest $30 to change out the straps.

    “But that requires business skills as well as the actual skill and serving the economically strongest market.”

    That is a very good point, and really ought to be a widely-offered high school class. In fact, I would actually be quite happy to see a strong version of that course fulfill high school math requirements. There are a lot of people who do not need Algebra II who do need to know how to run the financial side of a business. And this is not easy-peasy–consider how hard it is to run a construction business and keep it in the black and not make customers mad. It’s very complex to price out a job (with regard to labor, equipment and materials) and that’s not necessarily going to be obvious to a young person who doesn’t realize that there is much more to it than the skill itself. Obviously, a 16-year-old isn’t going to come out of a high school class able to do this at a high level, but they should be able to do it at a rudimentary level. (If I buy a lawn mower for W and fuel costs X and I mow 4 lawns a week charging Y for 8 months out of the year, how much am I making over the course of a year and how many dollars an hour is that?)

    Marketing skills are also important. And it might not work how you think it works. My tree guy, for example, killed his Google ad because it was generating 100 spam phone calls a day and driving him nuts.

    “We’ve discussed why — two reasons are that the rich families have more money to pay and that the results are measurable (in grades or test scores).”

    And also that it’s more time-limited. The wealthy families aren’t going to be paying for hours and hours of tutoring a week for half a decade.

    Shorter contact time is going to be more expensive on a per-hour basis. Just the co-pay for occupational therapy at one of our local places is $50 for a 30-minute session.

  6. “And also that it’s more time-limited. The wealthy families aren’t going to be paying for hours and hours of tutoring a week for half a decade.”

    Yes, true, and so part of that business is to generate enough different families paying you.

  7. Amy mentioning raincoats above reminds me of a niche manufacturing market that seems to support many jobs, making specialist hiking gear. Mainly people want to get lighter stuff than you see at REI because they are old enough to spend money to save weight they have to carry. My raincoat is only seven ounces.

      1. It was made by some guy in North Carolina, or one of his employees as I think he’s grown into a small business. There are a few like that and new ones starting out.

  8. A friend of our family quit work as a nurse and works with her brother and sister in law in their business painting the lines and signage on roads and parking lots. It’s interesting work in that it requires special equipment and skills you wouldn’t expect. They work at night and they have contracts with their city and have many business customers. They do very well.

  9. In WA, there’s a niche family business in providing driver’s education to teens. The business my kiddo took lessons from used to run a pizza shop.

  10. Most of the bridges in the SF Bay area have one toll booth, basically for those of us in rental cars. I paid toll to a young guy last time I visited my mother.
    Golden Gate, though, does license plates and you sign up to pay over the Internet, so this may not be forever.

  11. I was just remembering–in TX people hand down old cowboy boots as heirlooms and hold onto older boots, so a lot of those are being maintained and repaired.

    Also, there has to be a repair business for saddles and other equestrian equipment involving leather.

    http://www.sashoeandluggagerepair.com/

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