By Vasilis Vasilas
The longevity of successful shops plays an important role in their local area; over the passing of decades, these shop- owners provide such a great service and product that customers can rely on them and a special bond subsequently develops between the shop-owners and customers.
Over time, people believe these long-running shops seem to have always been there; these shops act as safety nets to our memories and sense of belonging because we can always depend on them being there to provide their service. Even when people may move out of the area, they will still return to their beloved shops of their former place because of that special bond that developed over the years (with these shops).
One shop that is definitely a hidden gem in our community is Kostas Anagnostou’s “Con’s Handmade Shoes” situated in the quiet, inner-city suburb of Hurlstone Park.
Once upon a time, people would visit shoemakers and ask for shoes to be made up, just as people used to go to tailors to get clothing made up. And then, you visited the same shoemaker to repair your shoes.
For Greeks, the shoemaker was important in both rural and urban settings; every village had at least one shoemaker so it was custom to have your shoes made up by the local shoe maker. This custom was extended to Australia when the Greek migrants came here; there were several Greek shoemakers across Sydney and especially in suburbs where they settled.
As a shoemaker, Kosta represents the end of an era of local shoemakers- a unique trade that is dying out as the younger generations are not interested in the delicate and long- processes of shoe- making. In our highly- disposable society, people opt to throw away their shoes and buy new ones, rather than repair them.
What immediately impresses you as soon as you enter “Con’s Handmade Shoes” is that it is workshop of a shop; this is the distinctive setting of a master- craftsman at work. There are sheets of leather hanging from shelves and dozens of wooden feet frames lining shelves. It is a like museum of a bygone era! It really captures what these workshops look like and what they are about. And maintaining the shop like this has made Kosta a fascinating figure of history as so many feature articles have already been written about him. Kosta ’s story was also featured in my book, “Beyond the Shop Windows and Counters”.
But what truly impresses you is the master- craftsman at work; he has a lifetime of knowledge, expertise and experience behind his highly- skilled work.
Asking how about his work, he has serviced former- servicemen with special shoes, making orthopaedic shoes for NSW Police, the Royal Australian Air Force and children at Westmead Children’s Hospital. He would receive orders from the Sydney Opera House to upgrade their wardrobes. He was even asked to make Wonder Woman’s boots for Movie World, Sunshine Coast! As Kosta says, ‘No job was difficult for me!’ and recounts one female customer who requested boots all the way up her legs- and she was very pleased with his work.
It was high quality work that drew attention from professionals; he made shoes for barristers, lawyers, accountants etc working in the Sydney CBD. So impressive was his work that the famous Polish shoe- makers, the Perkal brothers, would do a weekly drop-off of their own work for Kosta to make up for them.
These days, Kosta works at his own pace and does only over-the-counter work- the Greek radio continually plays in the background as he works away. He is saddened that there are no young shoemakers coming through to make this unique trade alive.
What I love about “Con’s Handmade Shoes” is Kosta himself; with more than forty- five years in Hurlstone Park, he has such a welcoming personality that locals just love having him around as he is always open for a chat. Kosta reassuringly says he will continue working his shop for as long as he can; when he eventually stops, we will lose a master craftsman in the process.
“Con’s Handmade Shoes” highlights the diversity of Sydney’s Greek businesses; so many Greek migrants arrived here with skills and they established businesses such as shoemakers, tailors, dressmakers, barbers and hairdressers- they continued to use their skills in Australia. They are a precious reminder of what the Greek community was in its heyday with so many of these shops servicing it. Kosta is part of our history; and after forty- seven years, he is part of our lives.
As a humorous aside, it was hilarious the way Kosta corrected me when I called him a shoe- repairer, ‘No, Vasili, I am a shoe maker…’ You are wonderful to us, Kosta!