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Star Democrat: Franchot visits historic Easton business

EASTON — It’s been a small business anchor here since the Great Depression, and Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot paid a visit on Thursday, April 19, to honor its hard-working owner and craftsmen.

Cobbler Leroy Potter, 67, figures the family-owned Caldwell Shoe Repair has had at least a half million shoes come across its workbenches during its 83-year history.

“Thank you for all your many years of hard work,” Franchot said. “Thank you for strengthening the community.”

Franchot brought his brown leather jacket and handed it to Potter and fellow cobbler Ricky Caldwell after shaking their hands. “It’s really worn out, but it’s my favorite thing,” he said. “I’ve had it for 25 years.”

The state’s chief tax collector asked Caldwell and Potter if they could make it look better and “charge me everything but the tax.” “I couldn’t be happier to be here,” Franchot said as he handed out three Comptroller’s Medallions. He gives the heavy coins to individuals who “make a difference in their communities.”

Franchot also gave a certificate to the shopkeepers for their historic and outstanding service and example to the community. He wished them continued success and prosperity of behalf of Maryland citizens.

A bipartisan knot of local leaders and fans of the shop stopped by to tell owner Charlente DeShields, Caldwell and Potter how much they are appreciated.

Del. Johnny Mautz, R-37B-Talbot, called the shop “amazing.”

“When I walked in here, I just remembered that one of the last things my dad asked me to do was take something down here to get fixed,” Mautz said. “There’s something special about this place — you’re not just getting something repaired. Keep on doing what you’re doing.”

Potter is not sure the business will continue when he and Caldwell, 71, decide to retire. They say they have been working together at the shop since high school and “have a lot of fun.”

The shop is a gathering place for customers and friends to pass the time. An ancient, oil-fired space heater dominates the waiting area, which is furnished with a cushioned loveseat, an easy chair and some hardbacked chairs that have seen better days.

Behind the counter, piles of shoes and boots crowd every spare inch of space. Well-oiled machinery that has been in service since the days of Stanley Caldwell keep humming. Caldwell said a younger person wouldn’t know how to repair them as he and Potter have. They’ve been working together nearly 50 years.

They are not only the sole shoe repair shop in the Mid-Shore area; they have customers from as far away as Annapolis, Arkansas and England. “We stay pretty busy,” Caldwell said.

In the midst of the Great Depression, Stanley Caldwell invested $100 earned on his father’s farm, and $50 borrowed from a friend, to establish the shop in its original location on Dover Street where the Talbot County Free Library is now. Caldwell was one of 14 children who grew up on a farm in McDaniel, near Tilghman.

Stanley and his brother Charles moved the shop to its present location at 15 N. West St. in the 1960s.

Charlie’s daughter, Charlene DeShields, has owned the shop since her father died in 1997 at the age of 90. Stanley died two years later.

Ricky Caldwell, a nephew, and Potter manage the business day to day, from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. They close at 1 p.m. only on Wednesdays.

“It’s unusual today to have a shop like this that takes the pride that you all take in your work, and you make shoes better than new most of the time,” Talbot County Council President Jennifer Williams said.

Williams, who said she’s had “many a pair in here,” remembered that she had forgotten to pick up a pair of shoes she had dropped off last summer. She paid her bill and took them home.

Both Potter and Caldwell retired from Talbot County Public Schools. DeShields is a 41-year veteran teacher at Easton Elementary School – Dobson. Superintendent Kelly Griffith was on hand for the informal celebration, proud of the district’s “family” and sharing her own Caldwell Shoe Repair stories.

“After 83 years of service to the community, you are an inspiration to Talbot County,” said John Wingrove, a community liaison for U.S. Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md.-1st.

Easton Town Councilman Al Silverstein represented the council and Mayor Robert Willey. “You gentlemen have repaired my boots and my shoes, so I know the quality of work that you do,” he said.

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