September 23, 2004
Fitzgerald-- Many communities would like to have one hospital, but Fitzgerald has three- Dorminey Medical Center and an animal hospital and one many people go to frequently for top notch care.
People around here look forward to going to a hospital where the doctor of shoes takes care of their problems almost instantly.
Some people like where they work so much, they never leave it, even after 46 years in the same building. "I'm a shoe repairman," says Tommy Waller, who has practiced his craft at the Fitzgerald Shoe Hospital since he was 16 years old, learning his trade in high school.
"Forty cents per hour, by the way," Waller says of his salary back then.
He pulled his way up to chief of staff. "I bought the business in 1976."
And developed a reputation for handling emergencies. "They have been hurting me. Yeah." The new shoe needs physical therapy. A little heat in just the right place with a bit of stretching. Five minutes of the special treatment should relieve his discomfort. "Feels good."
The cost of the office visit? "Not anything for that."
Between emergency shoe care, Tommy Waller checks on his customers at ground level. Their shoes tell a medical story, a long running test the owner doesn't know about. "He has a knee problem and he's bow legged."
Tommy says you can get an idea about the health of the local economy. When a lot of people bring in their shoes for repairs, times are nearly as good. But when times get better people tend to buy new shoes."
With all his talents Tommy feels trapped like many doctors. "Made a very good living. Would like to retire." With no one to take his place. Why has he stuck around for so long? "I like to meet people. My friends come by."
Tommy continues to repair shoes, loyal to his profession, loyal to his customers in a special hospital where he can't bring himself to check out of.
He gets interesting requests for his talents like the person who wanted a corset for his dog.
To make shoes last longer rotate your shoes. We usually have a pair we wear frequently. Tommy says if you like a particular style shoe, buy two pairs, wear on pair one day and the other the next. The time between wearings lets them dry out, and you get three pairs worth of wearing from two pairs.
The number of shoe repairmen dropped dramatically during the past 50 years because we wear more casual shoes instead of dress shoes, but the trend has started reversing.
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