Kenton Shoe Shop has been a mainstay of downtown for more than half a century. And after working in the city for four decades, Reginald Cousin has a story to tell.
By Candice Graham • Photos by Stephanie Garcia
If you live or work downtown, you’ve inevitably passed the unassuming building with a brick façade on Broad Street. If you’ve ever worn down the soles of your favorite shoes or broken the strap on your leather bag, you’ve probably been inside. Kenton Shoe Shop, or Kenton Shoe Hospital as it was once known, has been downtown’s go-to place to get shoes and other leather goods repaired for more than fifty years. It’s been owned and operated by Reginald Cousin for more than forty. But to know his story, you have to back up to 1959.
“1959 is when I entered Howard High School,” Cousin recalls. “They taught shoe repair as a trade, and that’s where I learned it. My teachers told me I was good, so I believed them. I just tried to learn more.” One of Cousin’s teachers believed in him so much that he gave him his first shoe repair job, at Tuskegee Shoe Shop. Then Cousin went to work for Kenton, which at the time was located on Cherry Street. “I worked for Kenton twice. The first time was from 1961 to 1966, and then I went to Eastgate to work until 1972. I came back to Kenton in ’72, and they offered to sell me the shop three years later,” he says. It was an offer he happily took them up on.
With decades’ worth of shoe repairs under his belt, you’d have to assume Cousin has a little bit of passion mixed in with his natural knack for the trade. You’d be right. “My whole career has been fun because I enjoy what I do,” he explains. Working 9 to 5, five days a week, Cousin and his one other full-time employee, “the shine man,” have kept a legion of loyal customers coming back throughout the years. The shop is abuzz each day with patrons coming to collect their recently restored shoes, waiting for them in brown paper bags with bright pink or green tags. From rough and tumble work boots to shiny black patent dress shoes, each pair is expertly refurbished and ready to make its way back onto the feet of its owners.
Dealing with shoes for decades has given Cousin a front row seat to the ever-evolving world of fashion. And while with changing times comes changing styles, Cousin’s experience tells him it’s best to hang onto a good, quality piece. “When one shoe goes out of style, it always comes right back into style. Leather is always worth fixing,” he says.
Staying afloat as a small, family-owned business hasn’t been particularly challenging for Cousin, despite economic downturns and decades of change. In a financial pinch, more people opt to get their shoes fixed than to buy new ones – a fortuitous turn of fate that benefits those in fix-it-centric trades like his. “When the economy goes bad, my business goes up. I’m in the repair business!” he remarks.
A successful lifelong career isn’t the only thing that Cousin finds rewarding about his work at Kenton Shoe Shop. He says owning his own business is something that’s provided him with pride year after year. To other small business owners hoping to follow a similarly successful and fulfilling path, Cousin’s advice is simple: Just enjoy what you’re doing and each day will be met with rewards. As for the future, Cousin has no real plan to slow down. “My next move is retirement. But as long as my health holds up, I’ll be right here.”