Winter Usually Bustles But The Pandemic Has This Denver Cobbler At A Standstill

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3min 30sec
Ryan Warner/CPR News
Cobbler Tommy Rhine behind the counter of his downtown Denver shoe repair shot, Feb. 19, 2020.

Winter is normally the busy season for Denver cobbler Tommy Rhine. 

“Some people don’t realize that shoes need repair until their feet start getting wet from walking around on holes in the bottom.” The pandemic, however, has meant there’s much less perambulating for his usual downtown clientele. “A lot of these people are not working and, if they are, they’re working at home.”

It’s been terrible, he said.

There was an immediate outpouring of support for Rhine’s struggles after they were first shared in June. People raised thousands of dollars for him online and sent in shoes from all over the country for repair. Eight months later, as Colorado marks a year in the pandemic, Rhine is trying to make that charitable boost last for as long as possible. He’s also gotten some rent relief from his landlord.

“I’m going to try to stick it out as long as I can,” he said. “I might have to close up if things don’t start looking up around here.” 

Ryan Warner/CPR News
The workbench at Tommy Rhine's shop, Feb. 19, 2021.

Loans and grants haven’t panned out but loyal customers continue to help. Like a woman in Aurora. “I bet twice a month she sends me $40 in the mail. Cash money. So there’s some good people out there.”

Rhine, 71, began repairing shoes through a high school training program. He loves the work but with his workbench empty and bare shelves that would normally be full of shoes, he’s finding “One of the hard parts is just the boredom.” He misses interacting with customers. “Because you meet somebody from all walks of life,” he said, throwing in some cobbler’s humor.

Rhine has avoided COVID-19 during the pandemic. He just got his second shot of the vaccine. Even though it gave him flu-like symptoms, he’s glad to have it. 

“I don’t think you stand a chance without it.”

Ryan Warner/CPR News
Christina Ibanez, of Denver, was a welcome sight at Tommy Rhine's shop when she brought in some leather boots for a stretching, Feb. 19, 2021.

A break in the monotony then came when customer Christina Ibanez, of Denver, walked in the door with new leather boots. They were a bit tight, so she came in to have the toeboxes stretched. 

Although she works from home, Ibanez dons nice footwear during the day.

“I struggle to get my day started when I am in my slippers. So as a rule for myself, I get dressed every morning and putting on shoes is a psychological trick of like I have my shoes on. I’m supposed to be working.”

Whether it was intentional or not, that need to help her mind focus for work is now doing duty for two — keeping Tommy Rhine busy one pair of shoes at a time.