Super Senior: John Welsh

Published: Apr. 28, 2022 at 6:59 PM EDT
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WILLISTON, Vt. (WCAX) - In the back of the Town Cobbler in Williston, John Welsh dons his leather apron for a little show and tell.

“This has been around forever,” Welsh said. “That’s years of droppings of cement.”

Welsh has been repairing shoes in Chittenden County for close to a half-century. Customers have even crossed the border for repairs. “All the strippers that were poll dancing were coming down from Canada because they’d break those big high heels and this is the only machine that will put them back on,” Welsh explained.

Reporter Joe Carroll: So you saw some strippers come in here.

John Welsh: Oh, lots of them.

Reporter Joe Carroll: How’s business?

John Welsh: Not good. Since the pandemic, we’re down considerably.

Down over 40% and the virus, he says, just accelerated the decline. “Back in the day, grandma, grandpa, your mother, father threw nothing away. They bought fewer pairs of shoes, they bought quality and they kept it running forever,” Welsh said. The Williston business’ story is not unique in the cobbling trade.

Reporter Joe Carroll: You’re one of the few left in the state.

John Welsh: They’re gone!

Reporter Joe Carroll: And you’re just hanging in here.

John Welsh: I’m hanging in here right now and if it doesn’t pick up, I’m going to be gone.

By now, you’ve probably gathered that Welsh speaks his mind. “I’m in your face, I’m a no filter,” he said.

From business to his life...

Reporter Joe Carroll: Why did you want to become a Marine?

John Welsh: You know, I don’t know. I just had to get out of the house.

Welsh says his father drank and his parents fought. So he went into the Marines and later became a Winooski cop. The former “leatherneck” has a soft spot for kids. On a domestic call during Christmas, Welsh recalls a kid asking him the question: “‘How come Santa Claus can’t come to our house on Christmas.’”

He says he never wanted to hear that again, so he and his fellow Marines formed “Toys for Kids,” giving away presents to disadvantaged families.

Welsh has also had his own personal struggles. “I buried my wife in ‘07, my daughter died in’ 08, my son overdosed in 2014. So, I’m alone,” he said.

His daughter, Celeste, was rear-ended by a speeding car and suffered traumatic brain damage. She survived the crash, he says she was never the same. “They told us that she’d be in turmoil all of her life and they forgot to tell us we’d be in turmoil all of our life,” Welsh said.

At 81, Welsh’s health has declined. Most of the shoe repairs are now done by his employees. Besides working the phones, he greets the customers and pays the bills. “It’s life. You get up every morning and life says here, this is what you’re going to do today, and you deal with it,” he said. “I don’t like it but it’s life. I treat that like I’ve treated everything else.”

Repairing soles to shoes, along with himself.

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