Walking into Dan's Shoe Repair in Ashland, the first thing you notice is the slightly musty smell of old leather that has mingled with feet.
The tiny, cramped space that Dan Shulters describes as akin to living in a submarine conjures up images of Geppetto's workshop.
Cowboy boots line shelves against the front window, and display cases are crammed with all manner of things for taking care of shoes.
Stepping into the back of the shop, the amount of stuff — heels, glues, tools, buffers and boxes — gets even more intense, even for Shulters. Like he's done many times before, the 49-year-old Ashland resident quickly rips off a worn-out heel from a pair of working boots.
"Very rarely do you get a smelly shoe," says Shulters, who is following in the footsteps of his father, a cobbler in Southern California just after World War II. "Every once in a while you get one you want to suit up for."
Amid this quaint cobbler's lair sits Shulters' laptop, which looks out of place.
He points to a pair of shoes mailed to him from Maryland, then talks about an e-mail from someone in Victoria, British Columbia, wanting boots repaired.
Shulters maintains his own Web site, and is soon planning to roll out a way for customers to order boots at www.repairmyfootwear.com. The Web site generates about 3,500 hits a month, and orders have been increasing.
So far, he estimates 10 percent of his business comes from the Internet, but he thinks it will build over time. "I would like to get to 50 percent on the Internet," he says.
Shulters is working hard to transform his business into an Internet-savvy company because his two sons are working with him and his two daughters also drop by from time to time.
"I'm trying to get some money," he says. "I want to get my kids off the free lunch program."
He owns Dan's Shoe Repair at 27 S. Second St., Ashland, and Bostwick's Shoe Repair, 7 N. Fourth St., Central Point.
Shulters bought the Ashland store more than six years ago, but plans to remodel it soon because the cramped quarters are just driving him crazy.
He points to his "shipping and receiving department," which is nothing more than a shelf next to a door, difficult to reach amid the boxes of shoes and machines.
When he puts a mat on the floor, it usually wicks up moisture through the cracked concrete. Mud also oozes through the cracks, another annoyance.
His workshop table is darkly stained, with a huge chunk gouged out of it. "That's for stress release," says Shulters, who swings his hammer into the crevice with a twinkle in his eye.
On the outside, the building appears to be sinking into the street. Shulters points to a location a few feet up an interior wall which he says is at ground level.
His plan is to fix up the customer area to better display the shoes and boots, then to improve the back area so he can work a little more efficiently.
In addition, he has 10 pickup locations in Northern California and Oregon for boots that can be mailed to him for repair. The pickup sites are located mostly in dry cleaners and mailbox services.
He opened a site in Crescent City, Calif., with the idea of getting business from the guards at Pelican Bay Prison. "There are over 750 guards in there, and they all wear boots that need to be repaired," he says.
Shulters hasn't always been a cobbler, even though he was trained in that profession from his childhood. He dreamed of becoming a cop as a youth and worked for the sheriff's department in Corvallis for a number of years.
After his ex-wife got a job at the Ashland Fire Department, he started thinking about what he should do.
"What I enjoyed is having a place to go to," he says.
That's when he bought the shoe repair shop in Ashland, and he's been expanding ever since.
He says he's seen an increase in business since the recession began. But he says many of the work boots he repairs cost hundreds of dollars, so it's worth it for the owners to have them repaired, recession or not.
When he's not replacing soles, Shulters says he is his own webmaster, constantly trying to find ways to attract more viewers, such as using key words to help in Google searches.
On his Web site, he has pictures of his cat, Cooper, who generally minds the store for him. Customers often take pictures of Cooper, then mail them to him, or drop them under the door. Some of the pictures he then puts up on the Web site.
"It's almost bizarre, the interest in the cat," he says.
Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or firstname.lastname@example.org.