On Aug. 25, Tommy Talesnik was working in his basement Shoe and Luggage Repair Shop, in the Ogden Center, 8828 N. Port Washington Rd., when he heard a loud noise.
The upstairs ceiling had collapsed and the sprinkler system flooded the building. Talesnik spent the day outside, waiting to hear the fate of his shop, but he wasn’t allowed to see the damage until five days later.
His shoe repair shop, opened 25 years ago, was a mess. “Everything was wet. It was heartbreaking,” he said. There was a lot of damage to machines, supplies, and retail items. The shop was closed for five months for repairs. What did Talesnik do during that time? “Worry,” he said.
But five days ago, Tommy’s finally reopened. “Ogden and company came through for me and fixed my shop,” Talesnik said. “I’m very thankful, especially to Peter Ogden.”
While Talesnik expressed his gratitude, the doorbell rang and a customer entered, expressing happiness that Tommy’s is open again: “Five months! You’re back!” After helping the man, Talesnik said he’s happy to be back in business. While his shop was closed, he said, “They’d call and call. For so long, people would call and with an open heart, I’d say 'We’ll open next week.'”
Talesnik believes in providing quality service to his customers. “If someone needs extra care or extra fast, I’ll always go the extra mile,” he said. “Customers who choose Tommy’s once will always come back again.” He prides himself in his workmanship and relationship with his customers, some of whom have been loyal since he opened his shoe repair shop in Milwaukee 25 years ago.
“Year after year, they come in,” he said. “Kids will come in and say they were here with their mom when they were two years old. Generation after generation, customers will come to people they trust.” Talesnik said word of mouth is the best advertising.
Shortly after he first opened his shop in 1986, Talesnik sold it and took a 14 year break from shoes, operating a limousine service, and later, a food delivery service. He sold the shop because he likes to keep busy, but couldn’t abandon it.
“I bought it back because it’s my baby. I’m the original founder and original Tommy,” he said. Customers were glad to see him. “They were happy to find out the original Tommy is back, strong as ever, and ready to serve,” he said.
Talesnik learned his trade in Russia, where he worked in a factory building new shoes. “I’ve been in the shoe repair business a long time,” he said. He and his wife immigrated to the United States in 1978, with “no English, no nothing.”
“It was difficult in the beginning,” he said regarding the language barrier and adjusting to life in a new country. But they managed. “If you know what to do with your hands, you don’t have to speak English. When [customers] see what you can do, they come back.”
Talesnik said he picked up English bit by bit from talking to people, television and the radio. “When people ask me, ‘where’s your accent from?’ I say, ‘what accent? I still have an accent?’” he said with a smile.
The cobbler said his craft is a dying art that young people aren’t interested in learning. “This is the computer era. They don’t want to repair shoes,” he said. But Talesnik moved to the United States so his children could have a brighter future, opportunity and safety. “You have to love what you do,” he said.
Talesnik is a family man. When he isn’t working nine or more hours daily in his shop, he spends time with his wife and his two adult daughters. He’s a proud grandfather to little Isabella.
He’s also a Packers fan. “We are the champions of the world!” he said, adding that he knew the Packers would win the Super Bowl.
“I welcome everyone to my shop,” Talesnik said. “If you don’t know me, stop by. You’ll be glad you did.”