I found it! I’ve searched high and low while writing this blog for the past 361 days and I finally found THE SOLE of Barrington. It’s housed in a little shop that you’ve surely passed a million times. One step inside and you’ll be shocked by the sharp smell of shoe polish and the sense that you’ve stepped back in time. A quick ding of the old brass desk bell on the counter reveals one of Barrington’s best kept secrets, as shoe repair man, Leonid Gokhberg, steps out from the back.
Leon moved from the Ukraine to Chicago back in 1979. Take one look at his hardened hands and you’ll begin to see his story in his black stained fingertips.
Leon started his work as a tool and die repair man when he was just 16-years-old. He mastered his craft in Russia and the Ukraine before moving to the U.S. over 30 years ago. When Leon found an opportunity in Barrington years later, he took it.
He bought the neighborhood shoe repair shop from the previous owner ten years ago and has been fixing the worn soles of Barrington ever since. The shop has been around in Barrington for over 60 years, so there’s a lot of history here. It’s the only shoe repair shop in town, just south of Lake Cook Road on the east side of Hough Street in Barrington. Leon marks the changing seasons and the passage of time by the boots, sandals and latest footwear fashions that walk through his front door. And, in a world where jobs are becoming scarce, he says his shop’s success is a matter of supply and demand. “We’re are a dying breed. Shoe repair is like a lost art. From nothing, you can make something.” And he says the type of rare equipment he has in the back is on the road extinction. “There used to be hundreds of supply shops in Chicago and now I know just one.”
Leon’s customers come with more than just shoes. He has polish, leathers, laces, eyelets and hooks on hand to repair and shine purses, wallets, luggage, bags, belts and any other leather-goods that need fixing.
Leon let me peek in back at the machines, brushes and dyes that are the tools of his trade. I asked him to show me around as he shared his story and, within seconds, I was looking at a tiny picture of two little girls which he keeps tucked in his own worn leather wallet. Though Leon has the most impressive collection of precision tools I’ve ever seen, I quickly learned that it’s his two daughters and two granddaughters that really make him tick.
But if you really want to see something cool, ask Leon to show you the biggest shoe in Barrington. It’s covered with the dust of decades and was handmade years ago by one of Barrington’s former cobblers as a joke or, perhaps, for a giant client.
I kept pressing Leon for more details about the wearer of this whopping wing tip. He wouldn’t say much, but I can’t help but wonder about who has left us with such big shoes to fill. Even if the tale is tall let’s try to get one out of him. You can reach Leon by phone at 847-381-1170 and you’ll find Barrington Shoe Service at 113 S. Hough Street.