WHAT: A shoe repair and shoe shine store that is not only a cultural landmark, but also a community hub that has thrived for nearly 80 years, Cliff’s Shoe Repair is also known as Cliff’s Shoe Shine Parlor and most commonly as simply Cliff’s, at 109 South 40th St.
THREE GENERATIONS: Founded by Cliff Burrell in the early 1930s, the shop has been handed down to sons and grandsons who have kept much of the original furnishings and tools. Today, the compact storefront buzzes with regulars who come from as far away as New Jersey to get a shine from Clifton Burrell and his brother Jerry, the grandsons of the original Cliff.
SECRET FORMULA: “You’ll look better going than you did coming,” says Clifton, adding that the gloss he lays down on leather shoes comes from the secret formula of polish and leather conditioner invented by his grandfather. The formula, he says, not only shines shoes but also protects the leather and makes it practically waterproof. Shoe shines cost $8 and up (more if the shoe is stained). Boot shines cost $10 and up.
WAS THAT THE MAYOR?: Everyone from the late Frank Rizzo to current Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter has come to Cliff’s. Burrell says Bill Cosby has been a customer, and Philly basketball great Sonny Hill currently has a pair of snazzy blue-and-beige oxfords being fixed at the shop.
FROM HEELS TO HOLES: Shoe repair available at Cliff’s runs the gamut from a quick heel replacement to the serious reconstruction of soles, shoelace holes, tongues and boots. Burrell says the price of repairs varies according to the work required.
SUSTAINABLE FOOTWEAR: Burrell says he doesn’t know if it is due to the Great Recession or a heightened “green” awareness, but business is good at Cliff’s despite the common notion that people don’t get shoes repaired anymore. At Cliff’s, repairs are done on dress shoes as well as sneakers, boots, clogs and recently even a pair of roller skates.
MORE THAN SHOES: The skills Burrell has learned at the shop have carried over to more than footwear. The shop repairs leather and suede jackets, handbags and luggage, as well as textile book bags and backpacks. Cliff’s will replace broken straps, fix holes and even change the color of your accessories for the asking. Cliff’s will also color shoes for proms and weddings.
SIT AWHILE AND CHAT: The real charm of Cliff’s is the clubhouse ambience. Customer Robert Rudd says he’s been hanging out at the shop for 48 years. The daily conversation sways from politics to sports to community service and whose kids are doing what these days.
SIX DAYS A WEEK: Cliff’s is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Saturday. You can call the shop at 215-222-9312 (you’ll reach the pay phone on the wall inside the store). There is no website; Cliff’s is strictly old school.
Originally published on October 28, 2010