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Highland Cobbler Shop closing after 63 years

Dan Forster attaches new soles to a pair of boots last year at The Cobbler Shop in Highland.

A longtime cobbler in downtown Highland is hanging up his apron and putting away his tools after no one stepped forward to carry on his trade.

The Cobber Shop closes April 14 after more than 60 years of fixing shoes, work boots, pumps, purses, luggage, belts and leather jackets. 

Owner Dan Forster, 66, is retiring. A cobbler for a half century, he ran the shoe repair shop — one of the few remaining places in the Region to get a dress shoe patched back together in time for an upcoming event — for 33 years.

"Northwest Indiana is losing another unique small business and talented craftsman," his son Michael Forster said. "This will leave a couple of storefronts in Highland vacant."

Forster's family ran The Cobbler Shop and Thrifty Kleen Cleaners, which closed a few ago.

"His father started the cobbler shop from the front of their house on Highway Avenue before building the storefronts that are there now," Michael Forster said. "Dan learned from his father then opened his shop out of the Strack and Van Til in Griffith. When his father, 'Bud,' retired he moved into his father's shop in downtown Highland and also operated Thrifty Kleen Dry Cleaners."

Leslie "Bud" Forster took over the shoe repair shop from its previous owner in September 1956, but continued to work at the Sinclair Oil Refinery during the day while cobbling shoes at night.

"Grandma, Elizabeth 'Betty' Forster, would welcome and wait on the customers during the day and pile up the shoes that needed repairing," Dan's daughter Patricia "Pat" Quinn said. "As we kids got older and helped wait on customers, it was always fun to see how high the pile of shoes would grow. Grandpa would come home at 5 p.m., eat dinner, and then head down the basement to do the magic of cobbling."

Bud Forster eventually retired and ran Bud's Shoe Repair full-time, moving to the current location downtown in 1963.

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A few years later, the family started the Thrifty Kleen, a coin-operated laundromat and dry cleaner on the other side of the building.

"Dan started working with Grandpa while he was in high school," Quinn said. "When Dan graduated, he opened The Cobbler Shop in one of the grocery stores. I can't remember all the places Dan had a shop, but I do think he worked for several years along with Grandpa at Bud's Shoe Repair. Then, I think it was 1985 that grandpa retired and Dan took over and changed it from Bud's Shoe Repair to The Cobbler Shop."

Dan Forster declined to comment, saying he'd rather "just ride off quietly into the sunset."

Last year he told The Times for a story on the national decline in cobblers that he was trying to find an apprentice to train since none of his three adult children were interested in taking over the business.

"I'd really hate to see it just close since there just isn't as many shoe repair shops open today as when I first got into this business," he said at the time. "It would be nice to see my location continue on as a shoe repair shop, so people would continue to have a place to come to, (to) have their shoes and purses fixed."

The Cobbler Shop is just one of the longtime institutions to depart downtown Highland in recent years, including Lincoln O's, the Highland Kiddie Shop and The Town Theatre.

A few cobbler shops remain open in the Calumet Region, including Ridge Road Quality Shoe Repairing in Homewood, Nick's Shoe Repair in Hammond, Modern Shoe Repair in Merrillville and Village Shoe Repair Shop in Gary.

30 bygone Region institutions

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Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.