Julio Delgado bought Shoe Rescue in 1986. Only a few years later, he hired then-17-year-old Benedicto Sales, who had just arrived from his native El Salvador. Neither of the two had much experience shoemaking, but both of them fell in love with the craft.
“It was my first job and it has provided for me all these years,” said Benedicto, who is now in his late 40s.
More than three decades later, the little store that sits in the corner of the L-shaped strip mall on Bird Road and SW 87th Avenue in Miami-Dade is a staple in the Westchester neighborhood. It is also the longest-standing business with a sole owner in the well-known shopping plaza, known unofficially by anyone who dares to call themselves a “Miamian” as the place where La Carreta is located. Yes, Shoe Repair has been there longer than that infamous location known as a go-to spot for the Cuban-American community.
Shoe Rescue has survived Hurricane Andrew, the 2008 recession and its own business-related challenges -- and then came COVID.
On March 19, County Mayor Carlos Gimenez ordered all non-essential businesses to shut their doors. The move was intended to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus. You know the one.
“I officially closed. As much as it hurt me, I had to tell my employees to go home and have them all removed from the payroll,” Julio said.
Julio laid off his 11-person staff. The decision was devastating.
He admits he was quickly slipping into a depression. After withstanding so many trials, he did not know if Shoe Rescue -- the business that had allowed his wife to stay home through their children’s younger years, paid for his children’s college and provided a middle class life for his family -- would make it this time.
To add to the stress, the shoe repair shop had a six-week backlog on work. Two days later, Julio and Benedicto spoke over the phone. Benedicto refused to let the business go under.
“He said, ‘Look, I’m not concerned about pay. This is not about money. My concern is to keep the business running,’” Julio recounted.
Julio took Benedicto up on his offer. And though the store was closed to customers, Julio and Benedicto worked alone in the shop for several weeks, in the hopes they could get caught up before they reopened.
“We are like brothers. And if he has, I have. We always say that to each other,” Benedicto said when asked about why he worked for weeks without pay.
After receiving a loan from the paycheck protection program, Julio reopened after being closed for two and a half months and rehired his entire staff.
Julio says the business, which was at the height of its success when it was forced to shut its doors, has yet to bounce back completely, but it is gradually picking up. In the first phase of the reopening, he says he personally delivered the refurbished and repaired leather goods to the trunk of people’s cars who would drive by the store.
During what he calls phase two, he set up a table at the entrance, so people could drop off items without entering the shop. At this point, the floor of his shop is marked with blue tape, as a way to indicate socially distant spots. Customers wearing masks are separated from employees by a plastic shower curtain hung from the ceiling. Julio resourcefully came up with the idea when he found out plexiglass barriers were out of his budget.
Through the transition, what has not changed is his gratitude for the one employee who helped him carry the business during an unprecedented crisis.
“I think I’ll be thankful to Benedicto for life. He pulled me out of my house and he got me moving to get the business running, so he plays a big role in the business too,” Julio said.