Montreal cobbler forced to give up beloved shoe repair shop due to allergies

Gilles St-Aubin has been working as a cobbler since 1975, but a newly developed allergy is forcing him to give up his craft.  (Kwabena Oduro/CBC - image credit)
Gilles St-Aubin has been working as a cobbler since 1975, but a newly developed allergy is forcing him to give up his craft. (Kwabena Oduro/CBC - image credit)

For Gilles St-Aubin, the most rewarding part of his nearly 50-year career as a cobbler is the reaction he gets from his satisfied customers.

"They look at their shoes, and they don't really know where to look because they don't find the repair," he said. "If they don't see a repair, it's because it's perfect."

This attention to detail has helped the popular Cordonnerie Monkland shoe repair shop grow a loyal following since St-Aubin and his wife Monica Turcotte first opened it 32 years ago.

"I think it's the quality of the work and the way we talk to people at the counter," said St-Aubin.

Kwabena Oduro/CBC
Kwabena Oduro/CBC

But the couple is now being forced to give up the business, one that's become a mainstay in Montreal's Notre-Dame-de-Grâce neighbourhood.

It's not because of usual reasons like higher rent, lack of customers or a labour shortage, but rather because St-Aubin has developed an allergy to glue and dust — both of which he works in close proximity to every day.

"I'm afraid [for] my health. I'm not young no more, I'm 69 years old," said St-Aubin.

And while he says he knows it's time for him to move on, it will be an emotional goodbye.

"It's not the business I will miss, it's the customers I work with," he said, tears in his eyes.

Kwabena Oduro/CBC
Kwabena Oduro/CBC

Community helped shop reopen after fire

St-Aubin and Turcotte say they owe their livelihoods to the customers who've supported them throughout the years — especially those who stepped up in 2012 when a fire at an adjacent restaurant destroyed the shop, which was originally located on Monkland Street.

When loyal customers heard about the fire, they raised $30,000 in donations to help St-Aubin and Turcotte get back in business.

More than a year later, they were able to open another shop by the same name on Sherbrooke Street.

"If we didn't have the help from the community, we [wouldn't have] had enough money to start over," said Turcotte.


She too says the hardest part about leaving will be saying goodbye to the customers with whom she's built personal relationships.

Several customers told CBC they were shocked and saddened to hear of the pair's situation.

Christina Delaney, an NDG resident for the past 40 years, says it's going to be tough to replace the couple and the niche service they provide.

"There's not that many [shoe repair shops] around anymore … because people don't buy to keep. They tend to buy to wear for a season or two and buy new," she said.

Kwabena Oduro/CBC
Kwabena Oduro/CBC

Delaney says she'll have to look around to try and find the same kind of "lovely" and "knowledgeable" people that she'll trust to handle her shoes.

"It's touching that people appreciate us so much," said Turcotte after hearing customers compliment the shop's service.

'No words to say thank you' 

St-Aubin is in the process of selling his business to another cobbler, but he isn't putting away his tools just yet.

The pair is planning to open up an online store where St-Aubin will sell items like purses, belts and dog leashes that he makes with leather — his favourite hobby.

They also plan to set up pop-up shops at farmers' markets, Christmas festivals and music festivals.

"I'm just happy to start doing something else — something I did before," said St-Aubin.

Turcotte is excited to attend the different markets with her husband and says she owes this opportunity to the customers of her beloved shoe repair business.

"There's no words to say thank you for all these years," she said.