His name is Misak, but we all know him as Tony. He’s the friendly proprietor of who rarely gives out claim tickets and has an uncanny ability to find your shoes out of what appears to be a jumbled pile of hundreds. Few people, or businesses, have been here as long as Tony’s, long enough that he remembers when there was a gas station across the street from his shop on Corte Madera Avenue.
The original Tony started the business in 1950 and died in 1963. Misak’s father bought the business from an interim “Tony” in 1975, and after years of helping his father, Misak took over the business 1985.
MVP: You’re not Tony. Do you mind being called Tony?
Tony (Misak): My real name is Misak Pirinjian. For 55 years I’ve been Misak. For 41 years I’ve been Tony. I don’t mind.
MVP: Have you ever thought about changing the name to Misak’s? I Googled “Tony’s Shoe Repair” and there are hundreds of them all over the country.
MP: If it says Tony’s it’s probably shoe repair. If it says Joe’s, it’s probably a restaurant.
MVP: How many people come in here in a day?
MP: I have no idea.
MVP: And you recognize everyone?
MP: Most of them. They are regulars and locals I have known for 41 years.
MVP: Do you still do mostly shoes?
MP: Mostly shoes, but also luggage and purses and jackets. Anything that comes in, I don’t discriminate.
MVP: Are most of your customers Mill Valley residents?
MP: It used to be. Now a lot of people come from all over. There is a shoe repairman in Sonoma and he sends people to me.
MVP: And no claim tickets. Do you have a photographic memory?
MP: Most of the people I know. You just tell me what I did and I remember what I did. You tell me what I have to do I remember.
MVP: Do you remember the faces or the shoes?
MP: Mostly the faces.
MVP: So when people walk in you look at their face, not their feet?
MP: I see the face and I associate what I did. It’s repetition. I see you and I remember the black boots.
MVP: You don’t live in Mill Valley, do you?
MP: No, we came in 1969 to the United States from Tel Aviv, Israel. In 1970, my dad got the business here. And in 1973 my parents were ready to purchase a house and my mother wanted to live in a warm climate so we’ve always lived in San Rafael.
MVP: Are you married, do you have kids?
MP: I am married and I have three daughters - 14, 19, 22. Four women at the house and all the women I need at work.
MVP: Is your house filled with shoes? I’ve heard you say that you take shoes home.
MP: I do the sewing at home. The garage used to be a two-car garage, now it’s a no-car garage. It’s filled with luggage and a whole bunch of shoes.
MVP: Do you have many people like me who bring in shoes and then forget about them for a year?
MP: Not a lot but there are a few. At the end of the year it adds up so I have to clean them all out.
MVP: Do you think you can tell a lot about people’s personality by the state of their shoes?
MP: Yes, definitely. Some people will come in and say, 'These are very expensive shoes,' and they are $60-$80 shoes. Other people will come in and say, 'These are very expensive,' and they are $1,000 shoes. I know the prices and I know the difference in construction. It’s all relative. To the person who is spending $60, it is very expensive. It’s what they can afford. They are all treated the same way here.
MVP: I can tell that you don’t judge people by their shoes. Do you ever advise people, 'Maybe these aren’t the best shoes for you?'
MP: I will tell them if the groove is coming apart that it’s not worth it to re-sole. I’ll tell them the price too in advance.
MVP: Do you ever say, “those heels are too high for you!”
MP: I had an elderly lady who came in and after 12-15 years I had the guts to ask her why she was wearing those heels. She told me she had an Achilles heel problem and needed the heel to hold it in place. You never know so I never ask. If the heel has a plastic base and it’s slippery I’ll tell them that, that it’s not safe to wear this heel. A lot of women have fallen with the plastic heels.
MVP: What about the state of the shoe, how worn it is, how the sole looks?
MP: In the summer or the end of the semester a lot of boots and shoes come in. The mothers bring them in but I know it’s not the mother’s shoe. I know it’s the daughter’s shoe because the heel is worn down further than a mother would wear it. A daughter is in college and she doesn’t care, she lets it wear down. And then she gets home and the mom says, “Look at this shoe! Let’s take it to Tony’s.”
MVP: You are so patient and you are nice to everyone. Does anyone ever make you mad?
MP: They try but I don’t let them. I don’t have time for that.
MVP: So you’ve got a Zen attitude. Have you had to work on that?
MP: I had to train myself. I knew better not to bring myself to that level. At times I wanted to jump over the counter and say, “What are you thinking? “But no more.
MVP: Do you just love shoes?
MP: Yes, my dad was a handmade shoe maker. He made custom orthopedic shoes. If he was alive now his shoes would be $3,000-$5,000. Everything was hand stitched. You’d look at them and say, “No way, these are machine stitched,” but they were hand.
MVP: And do you love the smell? I love the smell of leather and the glue.
MP: I also like the smell of the polish.
MVP: Do you have a lot of shoes at home?
MP: Yes. There was a shoe store in town that had given me shoes. All of my shoes now are in trees in boxes and polished. At any party I would dare anyone to show me a shinier shoe than mine.
MVP: What about your wife and daughters?
MP: They have shoes, but not like mine.
MVP: Do you think it’s better to spend the money on a good pair that will last?
MP: Yes, buy a nice pair and then you can re-sole it and have it forever.
MVP: Have you seen people doing more re-soling and repair lately?
MP: Yes, they are more aware these days.
MVP: Do you like Mill Valley?
MP: I don’t like it, I love it. I love the people, the weather, the businesses, the customers. I am very lucky to be a part of Mill Valley.
MVP: Have you seen a lot of changes in your clients since 1985? What’s different now?
MP: What’s changed is a lot of people think it’s cute here and have come, and some have come with a lot of money. It’s been developed and made it a lot more beautiful, I think. I remember Mill Valley. If you go to Bolinas now it’s what Mill Valley used to be. It used to be a lot more kids with long hair, tie-dye shirts. Now the kids have short hair and backpacks, they’re more wholesome looking.
MVP: Finally, what’s the hardest thing about your job?
MP: The hardest thing is when a customer says, 'I’m sure it will take you a minute.' It doesn’t take a minute.