Outside People’s Park Complex, a line of mostly elderly cobblers huddled over in their makeshift booths, protected from the sun and rain by only foldable umbrellas. This tiny hamlet has transformed it into a Cobber Square of sorts. While the number of sidewalk cobblers in Singapore is decreasing, the prominence of their profession is increasing.
There is a persistent odour of grease and rubber in the air near Exit C of Chinatown MRT Station. The site’s location is superb, with a high number of people passing through as part of a triangle formed by the People’s Park Complex, the People’s Park Food Centre, and the OG Building.
The stalls are a basic yet effective setup. Each cobbler usually operates from a cart, with the shoe last, toolkit, and repair materials within arm’s reach. Customers who want to wait for their shoes to be repaired on the spot are welcome to use the stools. The entire shop may be folded down and placed on a foldable trolley for simple transport and mobility throughout the day.
The 1950s was a time when most people switched from wearing clogs to shoes, which is when cobblers became fashionable. Shoe cobblers were common in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century. They would repair damaged soles or heels of shoes. Cementing cobblers are one of the five-foot trades, as they frequently establish operations along shophouse passageways.
They’re disappearing, just like the majority of previous occupations in early Singapore. Sidewalk cobblers are no longer seen as frequently due to a number of reasons. First and foremost, traditional cobblers are now being challenged by professional cobbler chain businesses such as Mister Minit and Shukey Services. Additionally, footwear and shoes are becoming less essential as time goes on. If they are now worn or ragged, it is likely that a new pair will be bought as a replacement. The culture of shoe repair and reconditioning is gradually fading away, much like the standard sidewalk cobblers.
Passing by Cobbler Square is like taking a trip down memory lane. A comparison of photographs taken decades apart shows how little this cobblers’ shop has altered. The cart has stayed, and the cobbler’s toolkit has as well. Most importantly, these cobblers continue to work honestly and with passion.