GR US

Greek-Owned Minas Shoe Repair, Survived 9/11, Reopens after COVID Lockdown

The National Herald

Minas Polychronakis at his shoe repair shop with his wife, Maria, and daughter, Asimenia. (Photo: TNH File/ Kostas Bej)

NEW YORK – The legendary shoemaker at the World Trade Center in New York City and later Wall Street, Minas Polychronakis appeared in the pages of The National Herald and other media outlets as one of the survivors of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on the Twin Towers. Though his Minas Shoe Repair shop was destroyed on that day, Polychronakis managed to re-open his shoe repair shop with a great deal of sacrifice just a few blocks away, at 63 Wall Street.

Polychronakis passed away at the age of 76 in 2018, but his daughter Asimenia Polychronakis “was determined to reopen Minas Shoe Repair in June, the 50th anniversary of the business her late father founded,” the New York Post reported.

Minas Polychronakis was born in Heraklion, Crete, in 1941, and at the age of twelve, he learned the profession of shoemaker. In 1969, he heard that the U.S. was looking for craftsmen, including shoemakers, and managed to get a visa and came to New York City with just a few dollars in his pocket, believing that God would help him to achieve the American dream. Polychronakis first worked in a restaurant washing dishes and doing various tasks, eventually saving enough money to open his own shoe repair shop.

Minas Polychronakis was very involved with the community, and in the past decade he had also served as president of the Cretan Association “Omonia.”

Prior to the global coronavirus pandemic, his daughter had been planning a tribute to her father, hoping to “celebrate with some hoopla and special promotions, like a shoe shine for 75 cents, the cost in 1970, [but] instead, Polychronakis quietly opened the doors on June 15 despite the Financial District’s empty streets and office towers,” the Post reported.

She told the Post that “there are no shoe shiners on duty yet, because ‘no one is dressed up’ and too few people are back in their offices,” adding that “seeing her old customers has been one of the brightest spots of her new day.”

Bianca Alexis, a patron for 10 years, had “first befriended Minas, with whom she discussed cooking and politics,” the Post reported.

“It’s awesome to see them open again,” Alexis told the Post, adding that she “brought in a pair of white shoes that needed to be repainted.”

A French doctor and customer for 15 years, brought in “14 pairs of shoes in the first days after the shop reopened,” the Post reported.

“In all the years she has been coming in, I have never seen her bring in the same pair of shoes twice,” Polychronakis told the Post.

In these difficult times, “revenue is down, she estimates, by 90 percent from a year ago, and summer is already the slow season for shoe repair,” the Post reported, noting that Polychronakis “has applied for a $40,000 PPP loan to bring back her five employees for full-time work and to help with bills.”

The “six-day work weeks, some nights spent working until 3 AM” have been “rolled back to five days a week, 10 AM-5 PM, for now,” the Post reported, adding that “the toughest decision she has had to make was closing a second shop, Omega Repair, located a block away, on June 30.”

She told the Post about “one upside to that,” noting that she “retired my mother, who is 65 [and managed Omega]. I want her to be able to chill out.”

More than 100 pairs of shoes are unclaimed at Minas Shoe Repair, and Polychronakis ponders “whether any of them belong to customers who have passed away from the virus or have lost their jobs ‘and are not thinking about their shoes and bags,’” the Post reported, adding that “during the three months the store was closed, just 10 customers called to pick up the shoes they’d left at the shop in March.”

Among the positive signs for the shop, Polychronakis noted that “some customers mailed in shoes for repairs during the lockdown, another brought in a small piece of leather furniture to be stitched up, and the locals who need her really need her,” the Post reported, adding that “she mentioned a lawyer whose office reopened nearby, and he stopped in to get his shoes resoled.”

“I’m still trying to be optimistic and patient. I can hear my father’s voice in my head telling me to keep faith,” Polychronakis told the Post.