After 50 years of doing business in downtown Delaware, Ralph Martin, owner of Ralph Martin Shoe Repair, will walk away from his shop at 28 W. Winter St. to pursue his hobby of fishing. The shop will close for good on April 30.
“Ralph just doesn’t fix shoes,” said Holly Gerspacher, a longtime patron. “He is craftsman. He fixed all of my purses, handbags and belts.”
Holly and her husband, Bob Gerspacher, heard that the shoe repair was closing so they stopped in to purchase a few left-behind shoes to donate to charity.
“We decided to come in and buy some shoes to donate to the Common Ground Store (193 E. Central Ave., Delaware),” Bob Gerspacher said. “The size of the shoes don’t matter, because there is a foot over there that will fit them.”
The Gerspachers said many times people become attached to that old, comfortable pair of shoes, handbag, purse or backpack and are not ready to give it up yet.
“Mr. Martin understands the personal attachment,” Bob Gerspacher said.
Holly Gerspacher said that Ralph Martin does business the old-fashioned way with a handshake, but sometimes he would get taken advantage of for it.
“But most people were grateful for Ralph’s work,” she said.
Martin was born and raised in Zanesville during the 1940s and began his shoe repair career in 1955 when he was 15-years-old. He began by working for a man by the name of Dave Dixion.
In 1959, Dixion offered Martin a job and the chance to move to Delaware with him.
Temporarily leaving behind his wife, Beatrice, whom he married when he was 19 (she was 17), Martin moved to Delaware to pursue his new career.
In spite of the distance, Martin traveled back and forth between the two cities until 1960 when he moved his family into a house he had built in Delaware on Neal Street.
After 30 years of marriage, the couple divorced. While Beatrice moved to Chicago with the children and eventually remarried, Martin remained in Delaware.
Years later after Beatrice Martin Ross’ husband passed away, she returned to Central Ohio. After returning to the area, she experience a fall that hospitalized her for a while.
Martin, being concerned about his ex-wife’s predicament, went to check on her, but while there, he suffered a stroke.
“She has taken care of me ever since,” he said.
The couple may have divorced 35 years ago, but anytime Martin opens the repair shop, Beatrice Martin Ross is there with him, sitting in the storefront working on crossword puzzles or playing games on her phone while watching over him.
Martin used to work seven days a week at the shop until he had his stroke in February 2015. It forced him to close the shop for a time. Once he returned to work, he only opened the shop on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
“It was going good until I had my stroke,” he said. “People sent lots of get-well cards.”
Beatrice Martin Ross said her ex-husband loves to work in the shop, because it’s his place to socialize, but she added he has good days and bad days.
“Today is a bad day,” she said the day of The Gazette’s interview. “It’s time to shut the doors.”
The proud craftsman agrees it’s time to retire, not just because of his health, but also the shoes made today are sold cheaper than what it would cost for him to repair them.
“Shoes today are form-made,” Martin said. “They are single-use shoes.”
Martin admits that over the years, he wasn’t a very good businessman. He said he had bought some wallets and other things from his friend, Bob Pilsner, owner of Pilsner’s 5 & Dime store.
Pointing to the things in his glass display case, Martin said those were some of the items he had bought from Pilsner that have never sold.
“When I bought the stuff, I didn’t realize that it takes time to sell some of this stuff,” he said.
Martin said the one thing he cherishes the most about his years in business was going to lunch with a group of store owners.
“We would meet every Friday,” he said. “They would all stop in here and we’d go to lunch at the Brown Jug.”
Martin said after the Brown Jug closed, the group would meet at the Corner Cafe on Sunbury Road in Delaware.
Contact D. Anthony Botkin at 740-413-0902. Follow him on Twitter @dabotkin.