Sole Man

Sole Man

The old polisher still hums: Parker dusted off his equipment for a nostalgic photo shoot with his granddaughter.

In a Lisbon Falls basement, retired cobbler Walter Parker keeps the old ways alive.

By Edgar Allen Beem
As a teenager in the 1930s, Walter Parker shined shoes in his father’s cobbler shop in Lisbon Falls. It was a time when many people owned only one pair of shoes, and C.W. Parker Shoe Repairing was a busy little place. “Saturday night, the boys all went dancing,” recalls Parker, now 93. “They’d flock in before the dance to get their shoes shined.”

There once were an estimated 100,000 cobblers in the United States. Today, they number about 4,000, and only a dozen or so Mainers practice the craft of mending shoes. Walter’s father, Clarence Parker, learned the shoemaker’s art at a factory in Auburn, the center of Maine’s shoe industry, which flourished from the mid-19th century until a slow decline after World War II. Walter worked for him, then operated the shop himself as W.F. Parker Shoe Repairing from 1946 to 1952, when he went to work at the Worumbo Woolen Mill. Even after he closed the shop, he took repair jobs dropped off for him at a local dry goods store.

Now retired, Walter keeps much of his old equipment in the basement of the cozy ranch home he shares with Blanche, his wife of 71 years. The tools include a large finisher, with its array of polishers and buffers and skate sharpening attachment; the vintage Singer patching machine; and a collection of lasts, stretchers, hammers, awls, tacks, and shoe polish.

Nancy Greindl's Photo Album

Parker’s granddaughter, Nancy Greindl, recently took several portraits of Parker at work as a gift for her family.

Parker’s granddaughter, Nancy Greindl, recently took several portraits of Parker at work as a gift for her family. Shots like the one above are a testament to Maine’s manufacturing heritage and to hardworking people taking pride in their craft. A happy, gentle man with few needs and modest wants, Parker says he still pays attention to footwear. “Shoes today are nothing like I worked on — back then, everything was leather,” he admits. “I can’t help seeing the changes in shoes. I’m always looking at people’s feet.”

Photograph by Nancy Greindl


Down East, March 2015Get the best of Maine Travel, Food, Culture, and Homes & Gardens every month, with a subscription to Down East, the Best of Maine. Gift subscriptions available.


Edgar Allen Beem

Contributing editor Edgar Allen Beem has been writing for Down East since 1983.

  • Gary David

    Excellent article about an awesome man! Know him personally. He and his wife are what one would call “the perfect couple”.

    • Nancy Greindl

      yes they are! They have taught us all what real love is. Unconditional love. They are amazing! Still going after 73 years of marriage.

      • Gary David

        Hoping Blanche is doing better!

        • Nancy Greindl

          sadly, she’s not. She’s hanging on but is quite frail and weak. 🙁

          • Gary David

            I gathered that. Walter stopped into Bill’s recently and let everyone know why he hadn’t been by. Everyone kinda knew, but that’s Walter! My prayers are going out to them both. Nice chatting Nancy, maybe we’ll run into each other someday. Love your photos, take care.

          • Nancy Greindl

            Thank you! you as well and thank you

  • Nancy Greindl

    So proud of my Grampa!