Dave Potter knew when he sold his shoe shop business that he wasn’t going to sell it to just anyone.
“I made up my mind when I put the shop up for sale, if they needed training ...” the 67-year-old said, his voice trailing off while shaking his head. “I have patience, but not that much.”
So when Londoner Errol Mehmet, 46, called Potter, he liked the idea of selling the business to a fellow cobbler, but he wasn’t completely sold at first. Potter knew he was ready to retire, but it was hard for him to imagine handing a nearly century-long family business to a stranger he’d only talked to on the phone.
Mehmet sensed Potter’s hesitation and booked a flight to Florida.
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“I said, ‘What’s your worries?’ ” Mehmet said. “If it’s about working, you can come back and work part time. I think that’s what changed his mind.”
87 number of years City Hall Shoe Shop remained under Potter family ownership
Potter hadn’t openly advertised that the shoe shop was for sale after being in his family for 87 years. But a mutual friend at wholesaler Miami Leather knew he was itching for a change. So when Mehmet asked the mutual friend in typical British deadpan humor if there were “any old guys that are ready to drop,” Potter’s name came up.
Potter handed the reigns of the City Hall Shoe Shop, 533 13th St. W., over to Mehmet about three months ago. He still spends many mornings helping Mehmet, especially now that the shop is entering its busy season.
The service and prices at City Hall Shoe Shop haven’t changed, except for the eventual addition of some of Mehmet’s specialties. He wants to add locksmithing and key-cutting, handbag and golf bag repair, dye work and fixing watches to the shop’s services. Mehmet also specializes in orthopedic work.
Meeting Mehmet face to face helped with Potter’s decision, but Mehmet’s work ethic and finished-product quality made him confident about the decision.
“This is a blessing to this community; nobody has your talent,” Potter said to Mehmet on Monday as the two diagnosed and priced shoe problems coming through the door.
Potter said Mehmet knows new techniques for repairs and working with him has been “good education.” Potter said Mehmet’s turnaround is faster than his, which he thinks is an important element in consumer choice.
“Right now in America it’s bring it in one day, pick it up the next, or same-day service,” Potter said.
Mehmet learned the cobbling trade from his father, Mick, beginning when he was 6 years old, just as Potter learned it from his father, Joe. After Mick passed away when Mehmet was 12, he continued teaching himself how to repair shoes. Mehmet and his brother Danny ran the family shoe shops while simultaneously going to school to keep the family business going.
City Hall Shoe Shop previously did not accept credit cards. Mehmet now accepts Visa, MasterCard, Discover and American Express for repair work.
Mehmet came to Florida for the first time 23 years ago on his honeymoon with his wife, Alev. The two have periodically traveled to Florida ever since, which led to them buying a vacation home in Orlando 10 years ago.
“And then last year my wife decided, ‘Let’s do it. Let’s move to Florida permanently,’ ” Mehmet said. “Cause life’s too short.”
The family put their house in Colchester, Essex, England on the market. It sold in one day, and six weeks later the Mehmets moved to Brandon with 17-year-old Aaron and 11-year-old Lilly.
The British cobbler’s flown in to save an institution.
Errol Mehmet, new owner of City Hall Shoe Shop in downtown Bradenton, on taking over the century-old shop.
“I’m just excited being here and for people to come and challenge me,” Mehmet said. “I want to keep it a family business, but it’s going to be my family now.”