“I like craftsmanship,” Bill Wheeler said, when asked why he likes fixing shoes for a living.

He pulled a pair of old, black dress shoes off one of the shelves in his cluttered workshop at the Coastal Cobbler. The label inside identified them as Bostonians.

“These probably date back to the late fifties or early sixties,” he said.

These are the shoes he can’t wait to work on, a big part of the reason he drives all the way from Pemaquid Point each day to work at his shop on Main Street in Rockland. But, he said, pointing to the long line of shoes waiting to be repaired and re-crafted, he has to work on the less interesting modern shoes as well. That’s what pays the bills.

“The repair work is steady,” he said. “I’m always weeks behind.”

That may be because the number of people in the cobbler business has declined over the years. In the 1930s there were more than 100,000 shoe repair shops nationwide and that number is now down to 7,000, according to the Shoe Service Institute of America.

Wheeler has owned his shop at 436 Main St. in Rockland for the past two and a half years. Before that, he had a shop in Waldoboro for a year.

He said he has educated himself in the field, taking advantage of the resources provided by the Shoe Service Institute of America and experimenting with shoes at home.

Almost all of the shoes he sells in his store are designed so they can be repaired and re-crafted when they wear out. He carries Mephisto, Allen-Edmonds and Double H shoes, sandals, sneakers and boots.

The shoes Wheeler sells are more expensive than those bought in chain stores, but they are built to last and be repaired. He recently had a pair of Mephisto shoes dropped off at the shop that are 40 years old, and he said they will be re-crafted by the people at Mephisto and come back ready to be worn for years to come.

Most cheap, mass-produced shoes cannot be repaired, he said.

“They’re using cardboard and vinyl plastics,” Wheeler said of the materials in mass-produced shoes. He said even some of the names people used to trust have been outsourced and are now produced to lower standards.

In his workshop Wheeler uses old machines dating back to the 1930s and 1950s, including outsole stitchers. He said he has to use older machines. The new ones in modern factories are computer controlled and none of the machines are cheap. He said he purchased an entire cobbler shop from Pittsburg, Pa., when the proprietor died, and brought it all to Maine. The purchase included all the contents of the shop, from the inventory and machines down to the trash cans and tools.

“There’s nothing in here that doesn’t get used every day,” Wheeler said, looking around his shop.

In addition to working on old shoes for private customers, he has done historical restorations. He said he repaired a pair of old flight boots for the Owls Head Transportation Museum.

In the store part of the building, shoppers will see a difference. Wheeler said he provides full service, measuring people’s feet and guiding them through the process of getting the perfect fit. He said he often spends as much as an hour with customers.

“I think it’s awful you don’t get that kind of service anymore,” he said.

This is not Wheeler’s first career. From San Diego originally, he describes himself as self-educated through the school of hard knocks.

He was a senior technician for U.S. Windpower, working on wind technology “before it was cool,” he said.

Wheeler said he helped install the first wind farm in the United States at Crotched Mountain in New Hampshire.

“Back then we were nuts,” he said. “We were ‘wind wackos.'”

The technology was not as good in those days, he said and they were blazing the trail that has led to modern wind power projects. “We threw blades all over the countryside,” he said.

Wheeler and his family lived off the power grid for years while he was raising his children.

Whether he’s building windmills or fixing an old pair of shoes, Wheeler is opposed to what he calls a “throw-away society.”

“My business is to try to sell products that people will have for a long time,” he said.

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