Long-time Port Moody cobbler may be hanging up his boots

Every resident in Port Moody recognizes the façade of Boothill Junction Boots & Repairs.

The little shop appointed with the giant boot on Kyle Street is an aging relic of the old city, one that will be likely demolished to make way for the new.

Steve Quigley, 68, has spent more than half his life working as a cobbler under that boot, but if a six-storey development passes final reading at council next fall, he says it will be time to retire.

“I’ve seen just about everything on the planet in here,” Quigley said.

Quigley is overflowing with countless stories and yarns of the many characters who have come through his shop since he opened 45 years ago.

His customers have included a former associate of Al Capone who had his car shot up, a lead torpedo operator on a British submarine, and a Nazi interrogator from the Second World War, according to Quigley.

“That’s a little different, wouldn’t you say?” he said. “Everybody brought their life stories to the shoe repair guy.”

Quigley said he trained as a cobbler at the Vancouver Vocational Institute – one of the precursors to Vancouver Community College – sometime in the 1970s, but couldn’t recall the exact year.

He worked for Dayton Boots as a cutter before setting out on his own.

“I took an interest in it, absolutely . . . I didn’t mind working with my hands, as long as I don’t have to fight the main stitcher operator for Dayton’s,” Quigley said, recounting another old story.

But what’s kept him in the trade and business in Port Moody has been the steady work above all, he said.

“I don’t get a whole lot of days off . . . that’s a bit ridiculous after a while,” he said. “I’ll at least be able to clean up the house a little bit maybe.”

While his daily clientele varies, Quigley said he has a lot of repeat customers, adding he doesn’t bother being competitive online because he’s busy enough.

A finger smudged with black polish points toward a large pile of leather shoe cuttings on the floor of the shop. Despite the appearance, Quigley says he does clean up regularly.

“People come in and say, ‘Oh, nobody gets your shoes fixed anymore.’ I kind of think a few do, don’t you?” he said. “It’s really steady . . . Non-stop for 45 years.”

And throughout those four decades, Quigley has seen a lot of the change to the neighborhood.

He can remember Port Moody’s busy cedar mills during their heyday on the inlet, a lively Jake’s Crossing Pub next to his shop, and being surrounded by dirt roads.

While the shop is not a registered heritage building with the city, Quigely said it still has historical value, adding the block’s historical buildings are “kind of disappearing.”

The shop was originally built for a First World War veteran by other veterans, according to Quigley, but he was unsure of its exact date of construction.

Port Moody Heritage Society (PMHS) said they have heard the same commentary, but they have been unable to substantiate it.

The building shows up in the city’s tax rolls as far back as 1913 as a lot owned by the Johnston brothers, who also owned the adjacent retail store, according to PMHS.

It came under the city’s ownership in 1935, before changing hands multiple times until Quigley’s grandfather purchased it.

Quigley said the new developers did offer space for him to relocate, but he said he’d rather hang up his boots.

“I don’t want to be here past two or three years anyway,” he said, but he added construction is likely a couple years away, so he’s not out of the game just yet.

A self-described “workaholic,” Quigley said his six-day work week has not left much time for vacationing over the decades.

When he does call it quits, Quigley said he’ll probably holiday in Thailand, where his wife is from.

Patrick Penner, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Tri-Cities Dispatch