Austin Shoe Hospital has 10 Austin locations focused on repairing and improving the longevity of leather items such as shoes, purses and belts.
Co-owner Carroll Kelly opened the Tarrytown location in the 1980s, as well as nine other Austin Shoe Hospital locations. He is one of three Kelly brothers who together run 25 Shoe Hospitals throughout the state. The shoe repair company is more than 100 years old, but the Kelly family has been in the business since 1983.
"I have a brother in Houston and a brother in Dallas, so there's a brother in each city that runs the market," Kelly said. "So we all run the company together."
Kelly, a University of Texas alumnus, graduated and moved to Houston in 1984 to learn the shoe repair business at Houston Shoe Hospital, which his family co-owned. After two years, Kelly returned to Austin to open shoe repair stores throughout the city. The first Austin Shoe Hospital opened on Burnet Road, Kelly said, and the Tarrytown location was the fourth Shoe Hospital to open in Austin.
The Austin Shoe Hospital repairs shoes, purses, belts, boots and luggage, and sells over-the-counter products such as shoe polish, shoe trees, shoe laces, cleaners, water proofers and shoe insoles for shoes. While small repairs can be completed at each shoe hospital location, many items are taken to a central location to be worked on.
"Shoe repair is a dirty business. You don't want to be fixing shoes in a store where it gets all messy with dye everywhere," Kelly said. "Shoe repair is an art; it's a craft. It's not like making a sandwich or cleaning clothes. If you bring in a shoe that's all torn up, we have to hand-craft the shoe back the way it was. There's not very many [skilled repairmen] around."
Austin Shoe Hospital has been one of the few businesses to remain in the Tarrytown Shopping Center, an area that is known for its high turnover rate, since it opened shop. Kelly said they've flourished in the Tarrytown location because it is an affluent area, which allows them to receive a healthy flow of business.
"Only people with really nice shoes get them fixed, and most everybody in that area—it's a lot of politicians, a lot of doctors—they have nice shoes and nice items, so the main reason we've survived is we have a really good clientele and we're in a really good area for what we do," Kelly said.
The Tarrytown Shopping Center is owned by Jeanne Daniels, an animal-rights activist who has strived to make the center animal-friendly by enforcing a rule that prohibits tenants from selling meat or animals products.
Because of the prohibition, many find it surprising that Daniels has not forced Austin Shoe Hospital out of the Tarrytown location. In fact, the business typically has three or four customers who come in and ask that question daily, said Tarrytown location manager Jason Williams.
Kelly said the landlady has treated them well. Once she took over the center, Kelly talked to her agency about their business concept, which is rather simple: They're a company that recycles leather. While the shoe repair store does have to use leather to repair shoes, fewer animals are killed to repair shoes than it takes to make shoes, he said.
"Basically, we save animals. If we didn't repair purses, shoes, belts, boots and luggage, more animals would have to die as a result of that. So she [Daniels] loves that concept," Kelly said. "We recycle. If you threw those shoes away you would have to probably kill several animals to make another shoe. And she's all about that. That's why we're still there."
Austin Shoe Hospital, 3106 Windsor Road, 477-6515, austinshoehospital.com