By Lena Mitchell/NEMS Daily Journal Corinth Bureau
RIPLEY – Larry Brock has saved a lot of soles in 34 years practicing his vocation.
He leaves the spiritual kind of soul-saving to others, but in his shoe repair business he has brought many worn shoes back to useful life.
Camburn Shoe Shop, once again a fixture in downtown Ripley, is where Brock uses his cobbler skills to repair shoes, boots, handbags, belts and many other kinds of goods.
The combination of shoes made from all kinds of synthetic products, low-priced shoes that are a cost-effective to replace as to repair and a general societal move toward replacing rather than repairing goods means that Brock’s is one of the few remaining shoe repair businesses in an ever-shrinking market.
“George Camburn, my grandfather, founded this business and he taught me mostly all I know,” Brock said, beginning when he first expressed an interest when he was about 10 years old.
The shop was in the Brownfield community of north Tippah County, then, where Camburn was born and reared. Several of Brock’s relatives continue to live in that community.
“If he paid me 50 cents or $1 for helping him, I could buy Cokes and candy bars for a long time,” Brock said.
George Camburn sold the shoe repair shop to his son, Guy Camburn, who continued its operation until Brock bought it from him in the mid-1970s.
Before that time Brock finished high school, community college, then went on to work a year in Memphis for a grocery chain.
“In June 1971, my uncle offered me a job and that’s when I came to work with him,” Brock said. “About two years later I bought the shop from him.”
The 64-year-old Brock didn’t have children from his first marriage, and remained single for many years before marrying his wife Glyn Brock, secretary at West Ripley Baptist Church. None of his other family members have shown an interest in continuing the business in the family.
He closed the business for a time, from 1998 to 2004, and worked at the Tupelo Shoe Hospital.
Since he reopened in Ripley, customers bring Brock the usual kinds of repairs – replacing heel tips on ladies’ high heel shoes and stilettos; putting new half-soles on men’s shoes and boots; stitching belts where threads have come loose; repairing handbags inside and out.
“Dollars are too hard to come by so people don’t throw things away unless it’s something that won’t hold up,” he said.
The largest volume of work comes from ladies shoes, recapping heels, and handbags, so the machine he puts to greatest use is the sander that smooths out the heel edges.
Brock has been semi-retired about two years and opens his shop three-and-a-half days a week: 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, and 9-11:30 a.m. Wednesday.
The activity outside of work that brings the light to his eyes and keeps him physically active is playing tennis.
“I play USTA league tennis with a team in Tupelo,” Brock said. “We’re called ‘super seniors’ because we’re all over 60.”
In fact, his teammates range in age from 60 to 81, and they won the state championship in 2010 for their age group at the 4.0 play level.
“I think my best play is a serve and volley, but others might say it’s my serve,” he said. “I’ve played on several teams that went to the state, but this is the first time we’ve won the state championship, which took us to Hilton Head, South Carolina, for the regionals.”
The point of semi-retirement was to have time to enjoy activities with his wife, and they travel quite often, designating a major trip each year.
“We were in Michigan this year, went out west last year and in 2009 traveled to North Carolina,” he said. “We’ve visited the New England states with a travel group and plan to go to Washington, D.C., next year since neither of us has ever been. We’re looking forward to that.”