The city of Delaware is less than whole this week following the death of longtime cobbler and cherished community member Ralph Martin, who passed away in Columbus Sunday at the age of 90.
Born in Zanesville, Martin moved to Delaware in 1959 to begin his career in shoe repairs at just 15 years old. Just two years later, he established his own store on West Winter Street, and for nearly 60 years, Martin was a mainstay in the downtown Delaware scene where he owned Ralph Martin Shoe Repair.
For years, Martin had his shop open for business seven days a week before a stroke in 2015 forced him to limit the days in which he worked. Still, during those three days a week, Martin was a shining light to all whose presence he graced in the shop. Known, among many other things, for his endless generosity, stories abound throughout the community of Martin’s willingness to help people and understand their circumstances when visiting his shop.
Ralph Martin Shoe Repair was permanently closed in 2019, in part due to Martin’s health. However, as he prepared to close out an era of service to the Delaware community and enter retirement, Martin also admitted the quality — or lack thereof — with which shoes are made today doesn’t lend them to many repairs these days.
“Shoes today are form-made,” Martin told The Gazette in 2019. “They are single-use shoes.”
However, Martin was a true craftsman, and his talents extended beyond just shoes. In addition to shoes, Martin also repaired handbags, purses and belts, among other items.
Despite retiring and bringing an end to his daily interactions with customers, Martin’s kindness wasn’t limited just to those who visited the shop through the years. His general goodness was a blessing to all throughout the community who knew and interacted with him, wherever that may have been, so much so that he was given his own day in 2016 in a proclamation issued by the City of Delaware.
The proclamation was issued by Mayor Carolyn Riggle in a ceremony on Aug. 12, 2016, at his shop, which was covered by several media outlets.
Condolences poured in via local social media accounts following the news of Martin’s death, with superlatives such as sweet, dignified, wonderful, and a treasure all being used to describe him. One commenter even went as far as to call Martin an icon in the community. Amber Miller, a Delaware resident, said, “Mr. Martin will always be known as a pillar of Delaware. He was a kind and generous man that left footprints throughout our community. Prayers to his family.”
Riggle said of Martin’s passing on Facebook, “Delaware lost one of the finest men ever, friend to all, so sweet, kind-hearted, and a blessing to all who knew him.”
In a phone conversation with The Gazette, Riggle said of Martin, “Ralph Martin would do anything for anybody. He was the most kind-hearted man I’ve ever met in the world. If you walked in there and needed anything, he would do it for you, whether it was needing a belt fixed or halter for a horse, or a blanket for a saddle, he’d figure out a way to fix it for you.
“He was just an amazing person as a business owner, but also as an individual. You saw him on the street and you never saw him without a smile. He was so kind to everyone. … I adored the man. Whether you saw him at Hamburger Inn for breakfast or Bun’s at lunch, he would drop his food, turn and talk to you. It didn’t matter if he was in the middle of his meal or not. He would stop and talk to you. I didn’t know a soul who didn’t like him. He was just a great, great man.”
The Main Street Delaware Facebook page posted, “Mr. Martin was a pioneer for our historic downtown community with his cobbler business on Winter Street for 50-plus years. We are so sorry to hear of his passing. He will always be a part of downtown Delaware.”
Rev. Jon Powers will officiate a service celebrating Martin’s life at 1 p.m. Monday, April 26. The celebration will be held at Robinson Funeral Home, located at 32 W. Winter St. Friends of the family are invited to pay their respects beginning at 11 a.m. up until the start of the service.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.