Photos and text by Barbara Haddock Taylor
“If the shoes are dead, he’ll bring them back. He is the best!” proclaims regular customer Irene Moses of Baltimore as she stood at the counter of ESG Shoe Repair in Roland Park. Owner Eugene Gomberg looked at her well-worn yellow sandals and said he’d see what he could do. In his 26 years of experience, there is usually something he can try.
Gomberg learned the craft of shoe repair under the tutelage of his father-in-law and brother-in-law in his hometown of Odessa in Ukraine. As a young man he was looking for a career after serving in the military, and he knew he liked working with his hands.
When he and his wife Svetlana moved to the United States in 1992, he used his life’s savings of $3000 to buy a car so that he could drive to work, honing his craft in shoe repair shops owned by others. Over the next two years, He saved enough money to buy the equipment to open his own shop.
Since then he’s replaced soles, fixed heels, stretched, sewed, glued, dyed and mended thousands of pairs of shoes, along with restoring and repairing handbags. A steady stream of regular customers keeps the shop busy. Sometimes they’ll drop off shoes and forget to pick them up. “If my regular customers can’t find their shoes at home they call me. ‘Are my shoes in the store?’” he laughs. Gomberg will check his log book and see that they’ve been ready for months.