“My grandfather opened this store in 1922. 99 years ago. He grew up in Germany, but his mother died and his father remarried. My grandfather couldn’t get along with his stepmother so he took a job as a cook on a ship to get away. He was 15 years old. The ship stopped in New Orleans and he jumped off. A family there took him in. They had a bar and he became a bouncer. Someone saw him fight and he got into the fight game. He became a prizefighter and fought up and down the coast. He had more than 150 fights and was never knocked off his feet. He and my grandmother moved to Cedar Street in Mobile. My grandmother got pregnant and asked him to stop fighting. He worked for a service station during the day and started training at the shoe shop on the corner, learning how to repair shoes. After my grandfather learned all he could learn, he bought the man out.
My grandfather’s first store was on Royal Street and Conti. he named it Dauphine Shoeteria after Dauphine Street in New Orleans. He came to work dressed up, changed into his work clothes for the shop, then changed and got dressed up again with his hat on his head to go home. I used to have to chauffeur him around because he didn’t stop for stop signs or red lights.
My father fought in World War II. He was going to California to be an airplane mechanic, but met my mother and stayed here. They married and he took over the Shoeteria. He moved it to the current location on Conti Street and we have been in this building for 75 years. I still use the original cash register. From the time I was walking, I knew this is what I was going to do. I got out of the Navy in 1968 and came here to work. I have been here 52 years. I worked with my grandfather and dad.
I came to work with my father years ago and the child labor people stopped it. I had to quit coming down. But I could work for someone else, so I went to work for a boat store sweeping floors and cleaning boats. I made $1.50 a day and they fed me lunch. I thought that was a good deal
My brother was murdered in the 1970s at the Jolly Ox restaurant. Freddie walked out at the wrong time and was shot. He was 28 years old. We were a year and 12 days apart. The killer went to jail for 11 months. The deaths of my brother and parents have been my hardest times.
We have had good years and bad years at the store. The last 12 years were good until COVID and people stopped working downtown. During the Depression, most people couldn’t afford new shoes, so they had their shoes repaired. Some used pantyliners and cardboard to cover the holes in the souls. We had five people working here during the Depression. We once had three shoeshine boys on Saturdays because men got their shoes shined before church. That doesn’t happen anymore. They either quit dressing up or quit going to church.
Shoes and styles have changed. I have seen a lot of bad shoes made in China and Vietnam. You have to know how the shoe is put together to repair it correctly. I advise people to get the heels repaired before they wear them off.
We have been repairing shoes for generations of families. I still love working here and taking care of my customers, but when I am gone, this business is gone. There is no one to take it over.”