With rubber soles, lifts, heels and shoe guts scattered about, you might think an epic Hollywood fight scene had taken place at I. Sachs Sons.
Or perhaps shoe aficionados ransacked the 13,000-square-foot South Loop store, the largest wholesale distributors of shoe repair and shoe store supplies in the Midwest.
The latter is closer to the truth. The mess is from decades of shoppers rooting through racks and digging through bins.
The store, the last vestige of a neighborhood once teeming with hectic wholesale operations, is moving this week to the Southwest Side.
Steve Sachs, who says the space is only slightly messier because of the impending move, bought the business from family members 12 years. But he didn’t take ownership of the building, which has soared in value because of gentrification.
The family has had a hard time finding tenants for the building’s other two storefronts, which need expensive repairs. So they’re selling. The time is right.
Sachs would like to have stayed, but is looking forward to new era of efficiency. He closes for good on Tuesday and re-opens at his new location on Sunday.
“I won’t miss the mess at all, because there’s a lot of money laying on the floor, a lot of it’s sellable stuff. . . . But I will miss the feel of this place,” Sachs said.
“There’s so much old stuff in here that we’ve kind of been working around it because I hate to throw things away. I get asked at least three times a day from people ‘How do you know where anything is?’ ”
He just does.
Bolts of leather for sale at the I. Sachs Sons wholesale shoe repair supply store April 26, 2015. | James Foster/for Sun-Times Media
While giving a tour of the building, Sachs, who started working in the store when he was 5, stared upward as he paused next to the stairs to a lofted area filled with boxes.
“We used to have an employee who worked at night putting away stock and during the day he would sleep on this loft. And when I was a kid I thought I was dreaming. I had a repetitive dream there was like a boogie man living on our loft, but it was true that he actually did.”
Sachs also took a moment to explain the box of old bullets on a shelf near his desk that he found them in an old desk drawer.
One winter day, decades ago, a man walked into the store but he didn’t look like he was shopping for a deal on shoe supplies — he was wearing a ski mask.
“My uncle almost shot him, not realizing it was a customer,” said Sachs, 53. The man recently called Sachs to reminisce about the near-death experience when he learned the store was moving from its spot on Roosevelt Road just east of the Dan Ryan.
Organized chaos has been an unofficial part of the business plan for much of the time since his grandfather founded the place in 1920. And it wasn’t just them, it was the spirit of the neighborhood.
Legendary and unfettered curbside commerce took place nearby on Maxwell Street, where people would come from near and far to haggle over the sale of nearly anything. Hectic wholesale operations, many catering to their ethnic communities, added to the mix.
But the free-for-all marketplace mentality and the unique charm and grit eroded as the city used eminent domain and tax increment financing to change the face of the neighborhood, according to Roosevelt University economics professor Steve Balkin.
“The idea is to take the neighborhoods that surround the Loop that traditionally have been low-income, working-class neighborhoods and push the people and businesses out of there so City Hall could create a gentrified area that people working in the Loop and big corporations could feel comfortable living in,” Balkin said.
The gentrification that was expedited by City Hall probably would have taken place eventually, but “it would have been natural and more balanced,” Balkin said.
Low-reen and the Maxwell St. Market Blues Band play at the closing party for the I. Sachs Sons wholesale shoe repair supply store April 26, 2015. | James Foster/for Sun-Times Media
Among the retail chains that now neighbor Sachs’ store: Petco and Golf Smith.
“It’s not the same neighborhood, and it’s not individual owners. I don’t know the managers of any of these stores,” Sachs said. “Before I knew every store owner, you walk down the street and wave.”
The place will have an emotional spot in Sach’s heart, but he’s looking forward to a fresh start and neatly lined shelves that he hopes will accompany a healthier bottom line.
“There’s no room for losing money through carelessness and messiness,” said Sachs, noting the number of wholesale competitors in the business has dwindled. “There used to be hundreds, now there’s about 30 nationwide.”
Sachs, who has nine employees, laughed while recalling the times when many of his cousins, who grew up working at the store, would hide among boxes in the basement to avoid labor. Sachs admitted he occasionally joined them.
“There were times my uncle would be chasing me around here with a broom, because his father used to chase him with a broom.”
A celebration marking the move took place Sunday at the store, 637 W. Roosevelt. In true Maxwell Street style, a blues band was on hand.
The letters on the building will be transferred to the new location, the only telltale symbols to make the move apart from beat up office furniture.
“This desk is pretty old,” said Sachs, tears welling in his eyes, until he burst out laughing. “Plus, I don’t really want to spend the money on another desk.”
Abe “Boomey” Sachs is a former owner of I. Sachs Sons wholesale shoe repair supply store. Abe’s father, Isidore, opened the store in the Maxwell Street neighborhood in 1920. Abe’s son Steve is the current owner.| James Foster/for Sun-Times Media