BANGOR – The shoe-making business was once as synonymous with Maine as its paper mills. Just like the mills, many companies have closed around the state, and in particular, in the Bangor area.
In February, we reported on a factory in Bangor that abruptly went out of business, giving no warning to its employees. Now, a determined young business owner is working to save it and preserve a dying art.
“When you think about shoes that are made in america and where they should be made, they should be made here in Maine,” said George Vlagos. He and Oak Street Bootmakers, the company he founded, are from Fhicago, but up until February his shoes were made at the factory in Bangor.
They just came here on a Friday morning,” said factory manager Al Kimball Jr. “They let me know first, and then we came down and addressed the factory employees.”
When the factory closed, Vlagos was determined to buy it and replenish the work force. He finalized the deal last week.
“The goal is to get back as many people as we can,” he added. “But also importantly, if you want to preserve shoe-making you have to train young people.”
Making shoes by hand is a dying art in america, and Vlagos, the son of a cobbler, knows firsthand what that quality means. He grew up in his father’s shop, learning how to tie shoes by practicing on pairs his dad was working on for others.
Pretty soon the factory will be filled again with hardworking artisans making practical art.
“Since 2010 we’ve been saying that we want to preserve the craft of shoemaking,” said Vlagos. “Today, we actually feel like we’re making an important impact, an important step in making that a reality.”
And in the process, bringing back a once forgotten business.