It was late-August and Henry Ng was tidying up his store on Main Street at the edge of Punjabi Market. He was cleaning an ice green Adler sewing machine when a woman walked in with a pair of tan wedges. She would be one of the last customers of his half-century career.
“The soles are coming off,” said the woman.
Ng — who says he’s 88, but his wife tells people he’s 90 and should’ve retired a long time ago — took the wedges from her and lifted the curling soles with his fingers.
“I can fix it,” said Ng. “I need to use nails.”
“Nails?” said the woman. “Can’t you just use glue?”
“They would come off again,” said Ng.
The woman resisted for a while, but Ng reassured her.
“I’ve been doing this for 50 years,” he said with a laugh.
At that, she surrendered them. He handed her a small piece of cardboard with a piece of green tape on it as a receipt — Ng’s regular patrons know that if you lose this, good luck getting your shoes back.
Ng said goodbye to his profession, goodbye to his shop and goodbye to 12-hour, seven-day workweeks on Sept. 1. He was a unique cobbler, mending not only shoes, but everything from handbags to baseball gloves. Ng’s training as a tailor in southern China, where he’s from, gave him extra craftiness as a cobbler. Mending hockey pads and sharpening skates were specialties of Ng’s, sent his way from Cyclone Taylor Sports on Oak Street. Cynthia Taylor said her father, Fred Taylor Jr., “always used Henry because he was the best.”
The Sunset neighbourhood lost a rare, veteran tradesman with Ng’s retirement, but chance is bringing someone new to his old workshop.
Read the full story in the Vancouver Courier here.