Of castles and cobblers

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With an aristocratic heritage that belies his humble surroundings, Yves DeHayes continues a trade he learned shortly after coming to America from his home near the French Alps.

The Lewiston cobbler is a count.

“My family is descended from the dukes of Norfolk in England,” DeHayes says. “My grandfather had three castles.” They were destroyed during World War II and are now only a memory for a man who sees himself as a lone artisan of a dying trade.

DeHayes bought Obie’s Shoe Repair, where he learned the trade, when it was on Cedar Street. It is now on Lisbon Street. He has been in the shoe repair business for more than 30 years and is now semi-retired, trading his schedule of 10 hours a day, six days a week, for a slightly slower pace.

DeHayes is surrounded by the tools of his trade. Customers are transported to another era where antique machines stitch, grind, polish and tack new soles onto worn shoes. In his shop are wooden shoe stretchers, heels and soles piled according to size and type; hammers, tacking machines, auto-solers, and an old Singer treadle sewing machine.

DeHayes takes great pride in his work, making sure to re-stain the leather of the shoes he repairs so they look as good as new. He also repairs torn leather jackets and purses, and replaces zippers.

DeHayes salvages soles, but also has salvaged animals who need help. His shop is home to a menagerie of birds: three cockatiels, an African gray and a crippled white dove, among others. They provide him with company as he works, and he provides them with food, companionship and space to fly.

He sees his work as “the best, it’s something to do. It gives me satisfaction. I love it, but I am getting tired.”

He says he will work on shoes part time in his barn when he retires. Still, the pride with which he plies his craft is evident in his blue eyes as he surveys his work. He knows he has given the shoes new life.

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