Raymond Angel will tell you he graduated from the University of Washington in the mid 70s with a degree in Law, Society and Justice. He will also tell you he had no intention to go into his father’s shoe repair business.
“Well — instead of saving souls in court, I’m lucky enough to save soles here now,” Raymond quips.
Just a little bit of shoe humor.
Angel’s Shoe Repair, a family business started 100 years ago in Seattle, is celebrating its landmark centennial anniversary on Capitol Hill. As one of the the rare things that has remained the same over the years in the rapidly changing Capitol Hill neighborhood, Angel chalks that longevity up to a bit of fate, and a lot of good old fashioned experience.
“We’ve been around for a long time. You learn a few things over the years,” Angel said.
Even though the years have given him experience, Angel still uses largely the same equipment and techniques his grandfather Joseph Angel did when he immigrated from the Isle of Rhodes and started the original business in 1912.
“My stitcher is a model from 1912, my finisher is from 1940, and my Singer sewing machine is an 1880,” Angel says. “Most machinery was built to last forever back then.”
In its earliest iteration, Angel’s Shoe Repair was known as Behar & Issac Angel Brothers Shoe Repair. According to Angel, his grandfather was known as “Behar” to most people, a Jewish knickname meaning “eldest.” The business began on Roosevelt, moving for the first of four times over to 607 Pine in the early 20s. In 1980, the shop finally settled in its current location at 1465 E Republican.
“I like working with my hands,” Angel says as he fiddles with a boot. “Working with criminals for a bit after I graduated, I realized how hard they were to get along with. My customers though, they’ve always been great, and make the job so rewarding for me. The people are wonderful, and I’ve never really gotten a bad check—people who take care of their shoes tend to be good, reliable people.”
Respecting and honoring customers is a lesson Angel learned from his father Eli, who owned the shop until Raymond took over. Eli was a fixture in the neighborhood, known for his kindness and consideration.
Robert Fulgham’s classic 1989 New York Times Bestseller All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, features a chapter on Eli and his little Seattle shoe business, which Fulgham was a devoted customer of back in the day.
“My dad would sometimes go in the back and put cookies in the bag with the shoes when customers came for pick-up,” Angel says. “Robert Fulgham loved that little detail my dad paid attention to when it came to making people happy and being a kind person.”
And now that he’s in charge, Angel tries to pay his own customers the same respect his father did. Old photos of his father, grandfather, and uncle peer out at him from the shop wall, reminding him of where he came from, and what values to hold close in moving toward the future. Even though he didn’t end up practicing law, Angel is intensely proud to continue his family legacy here in Seattle. As for his own kids?
“They’re not interested in taking over the business at all,” Angel says of his adult son and daughter. “I don’t blame them though—I wasn’t interested either!”
There are plans for an August 7th celebration around 15th Ave E as part of Angel’s anniversary. Watch for details — or stop by the shop.