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Juan Campos: Leather smith and cobbler

CDN's weekly community profile

Juan Campos stands in his shop, Sandy & Vale's Shoe Repair, on March 27 off Railroad Avenue. (Finn Wendt/Cascadia Daily News)
By Isaac Stone Simonelli Enterprise/Investigations Reporter

Juan Campos (he/him)

Age: 34

City: Bellingham

Lived here for: 34 years

Originally from: Bellingham

Notable: Leather smith and shoe repairman at the family-owned Sandy & Vale’s Shoe Repair on Railroad Avenue.

What was it like taking over a leather shop from your father?

I feel like I was raised in it. I helped my dad come in and shine shoes when I was younger. So it felt like second nature or like a second home. 

I started making leather goods when I was down in Portland, so it kind of blended together, the shoe repair and the leather working.

How did your dad get into the business?

He bought the shop in ’91, but he’s been making shoes my whole life. My dad had a shoe shop in El Salvador when he was younger; he made his first pair of shoes that he ever wore when he was 13. 

He actually had a wife and two kids, and then the civil war started, and his wife actually got gunned down in the streets and he had to flee. He made his way up to Vancouver, making shoes and boots in different cities all the way up. 

He met my mom and moved down here.

What does it feel like to be part of your dad’s story as a cobbler?

I like being able to continue his legacy and also trying to make it my own — trying to honor what he’s teaching me and what he taught me.

What are the leather products you make?

The leather products that I make are mostly carry all, or everyday carries: wallets, tote bags. [I] also make trays for putting my keys and stuff in, journals, belts, toiletry bags, and coasters and stuff like that.

What do you like about leather products?

Leather products are definitely more durable than synthetic products, like vinyls. I’ve noticed leather products, like leather shoes, lasting over time, while vinyl tends to disintegrate.

What do you find challenging about operating a kind of niche business in downtown Bellingham?

With the shop being so unique, it’s really easy for people to be drawn into the shop.

There are so many times when, throughout the day, I hear people saying, ‘Oh, a shoe repair shop, but I haven’t seen one of those in a while.’ It’s really nice to be able to kind of give that experience.

Being downtown, there [are] its challenges, but at the same time it’s still, I think, a really good location to be in.

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