Shoe design find in an unlikely spot on St. Mark’s


By Meagan Brant

Shoehorned between a sunglasses. vendor and a tattoo shop is one of New York City’s tiniest shoe repair shops — and a design find. Prized by penny pinchers and shoe mavens, East Village Shoe Repair is known for its willingness to execute customers’ most fanciful shoe designs, at rock-bottom prices.

Since the shop, on St. Mark’s Pl. between Second and Third Aves., fell into the hands of Belarus natives Eugene Finkelberg and Boris Zuborev 12 years ago, the two have been making a name for themselves among shoe lovers.

“When we started, nobody heard of customized sneakers,” said Zuborev. “We were the original ones.”

They also make cowboy boots, sandals and high heels. They’ll dye your pumps hot pink, spray-paint pictures on your sneakers or raise your heels up 17 inches. In the ’90s, one could witness Zuborev’s creations on the feet of certain well-known musicians and dancers. In his platform shoes, clubbers he designed for rose above others.

“We’re an affordable place for people with good ideas,” said Zuborev. “We’re the real deal.”

They count some fashion designers among their clients. Stylist Tabitha Simmons commissioned East Village Shoe Repair to design a pair of platform boots Kate Moss wore for a W magazine spread, Simmons’s assistant confirmed. Some of the shop’s designs have also shown up in Lace: Sneakers Magazine. Once a man came by and asked the shoemakers to design a T-shirt for Giorgio Armani as a birthday present, Zuborev said.

East Village Shoe Repair was an ordinary cobbler’s shop when it opened in 1985. But after Finkelberg, the owner’s nephew, and Zuborev took it over, the shop’s reputation for shoe customizing grew.

It’s a hole in the wall, the place itself showing little evidence of fine design. The yellow awning has been spray-painted green and white, and signs hang by old shoelaces. Graffiti surrounds the door. Industrial metal shelving stuffed with thick-soled boots, multicolored pumps, sneakers and roughed-up ballet slippers obscures the entrance.

Inside are even more stacks of shoes that have been worn and loved and sold and worn again with yet more love. Converse Chuck Taylor All Stars line one wall. There are cheetah prints, knee-highs, platforms, Guccis, Louis Vuittons and shoes that resemble a red shag rug.

Every couple of days, Finkelberg and Zuborev lug a giant garbage bag filled with shoes over from their Brooklyn warehouse.

In back, Zuborev cuts away at aged brown leather. His workstation is a corkboard jammed into a collapsing file cabinet that overflows with strips of cloth. Yuka, his wife, is rarely there, but today has stopped in to pick up a belt she’s designing. Finkelberg quietly shuffles between machines, mending in silence.

Finkelberg says the long days get to him.

“Every day is the same,” he said, in a barely audible whisper. “At the end I just want to go home and relax.”

Their last day off (actually, it was a half day) was July Fourth. But with so many projects and customers, they say, they can’t afford to go on vacation.