Rich Foens, owner of Smitty’s Shoe Repair, demonstrates the sole stitcher at his shop in Marion, Iowa. (photo/Cindy Hadish)

By Cindy Hadish

MARION – Rich Foens has soled his last shoe.

Smitty’s Shoe Repair has been a fixture in Marion for more than 90 years. (photo/Cindy Hadish)

Starting as a youth in his father’s shop, Foens is retiring at age 80 after 55- to 70-hour work weeks as owner of Smitty’s Shoe Repair. Yet, he insists it wasn’t really work.

“I started at age 9 and I’ve enjoyed every day,” he said. “I’ve never went to work one day in my life.”

His philosophy is evident as he chats with friends and customers who come through the door.

John Wollner of Cedar Rapids stopped in on one of the final days to see about having his shoes shined.

A longtime customer, Wollner said he will miss conversations with Foens about Hawkeye wrestling and more.

Smitty’s owner Rich Foens is an avid Hawkeye fan. (photo/Cindy Hadish)

“The guy’s a relic and an institution at the same time,” he said.

Wollner is one of few customers to call Foens by his real name.

“About 98 percent of people call me Smitty,” Foens said, unperturbed by the assumption that his name is the same as the business he purchased from the sons of original owner Frank Smith, who started Smitty’s at its site at 684 10th St. in Marion, about 90 years ago.

Foens, originally from Davenport, took over his father’s shoe repair shop in Tipton at age 25 and came to Marion 35 years ago.

Even as more shoes are made of materials that cannot be repaired, Foens said the past year was one of his busiest, as three other shoe repair shops had closed in Eastern Iowa.

A shoe poster is seen inside Smitty’s Shoe Repair on Friday, Oct. 26, 2018. (photo/Cindy Hadish)

His retirement decision was made when the owners decided to end his lease to make improvements to the building, built in 1895.

Foens holds no ill-will toward his landlords.

He can stay in the building through the end of November, but stopped taking new orders and will focus on cleaning up the machinery he is selling, including to one person who might open a shoe repair shop in Cedar Rapids.

While Smitty’s has become a rarity in a “throwaway” society, Foens added that there will always be a need for a shoe repair shop.

Rich Foens said his work shoes will stay in the shop when he retires. (photo/Cindy Hadish)

He estimates working on 100 to 150 pairs per week, much of which involves heel repair on women’s shoes and soles on men’s shoes. One customer even continues to send her shoes to Smitty’s after she relocated to Seattle.

Foens changes indoors from Skechers loafers into black Apex orthopedic shoes every day, with his own work shoes never leaving the shop.

The same will be true on his final day. A former high school wrestler and avid Hawkeye wrestling fan, Foens will follow the tradition of wrestlers who mark their last match by leaving their shoes on the mat.

“When I lock up,” Foens said, “these work shoes will stay right here.”

See more photos from Smitty’s, below, and final photos of the Marion Maid-Rite and Westdale Mall in Cedar Rapids.

Rich Foens takes a break after working on his final shoe repair on Friday, Oct. 26, 2018. (photo/Cindy Hadish)

Finished shoes line Smitty’s Shoe Repair in Marion, Iowa. (photo/Cindy Hadish)

Rich Foens glues the sole of a pair of Birkenstock sandals, his final sole repair at Smitty’s. (photo/Cindy Hadish)

Walls of Smitty’s Shoe Repair are lined with wrestling memorabilia. (photo/Cindy Hadish)

Owner Rich Foens talks to customer John Wollner on Friday, Oct. 26, 2018. (photo/Cindy Hadish)

Finished orders wait for customers to pick them up at Smitty’s Shoe Repair. (photo/Cindy Hadish)

A prototype of Howdy Doody’s boot sits on a table at Smitty’s Shoe Repair. Rich Foens said his grandfather made the model while working in St. Louis. (photo/Cindy Hadish)

A sign notes the retirement plans of Smitty’s owner Rich Foens on Friday, Oct. 26, 2018. (photo/Cindy Hadish)

Smitty’s owner Rich Foens is selling the last of his machinery at his shop in Marion, Iowa. (photo/Cindy Hadish)