Traditional street-cart cobblers are fast becoming a thing of the past, so track them down while you still can. Audrey Lee meets five old masters
Liu Qing Yuan, 63
Find him: At Yishun Bus Interchange, at
the Level 1 exit next to Old Chang Kee in
Northpoint Shopping Centre. He works daily
from 1pm to midnight (9670 4961).
Charge for repair work: $2-$28 for women’s
shoes; $14-$24 for men’s shoes.
Average time taken: Up to 20 minutes for
women’s shoes; 30 minutes for men’s shoes.
How long have you been a cobbler?: ‘Over
20 years and I plan to continue working in
this trade until I am no longer able to work.
I am rather comfortable with my work so I
don’t see a need to switch. In this line, I get to
interact with many different people every day
and begin friendships with familiar faces. My
customers will occasionally buy coffee for me
before I start work.’
How did you get into it? ‘I was a carpenter
in my early days but I’ve always had a strong
interest in fixing shoes. I picked up the skills
when I was in school.’
What kind of shoes do you specialise in? ‘I work with all kinds of shoes but my
customers usually bring in women shoes
ranging from sandals to heels, pumps and
covered shoes. I work with leather shoes too.’
Most expensive shoes you’ve mended? ‘A $1,000 pair of Louis Vuitton heels.’
Lee Chai Jin, 70
Find him: Outside Kwan Im Thong
Hood Cho Temple, 178 Waterloo Street.
He works daily from 9am to 6pm.
Charge for repair work: $1-$40.
Average time taken Between one and
How long have you been a cobbler? ‘A very long time [laughs].’
How did you get into it? ‘It seemed to
be the most lucrative line of work in my
younger days, so I picked it up to make
a living. It’s definitely a disappearing
trade – the kids these days have no interest in working long hours under
the hot sun, or getting wet in the rain,
so there is no one to replace the cobblers
that we’ve lost. I am part of the last
What kind of shoes do you specialise in? ‘Men’s leather shoes,
mainly. I only occasionally get brought
women’s shoes for repair.’
Most expensive shoes you’ve mended? ‘I would
think leather shoes are generally very
Richard Chen, 60+
Find him: At Ang Mo Kio HDB hub,
outside NTUC FairPrice. He works
daily from 9am to 8.30pm.
Charge for repair work: $2-$20.
Average time taken 40 minutes.
How long have you been a cobbler? ‘Over 20 years. I am very comfortable
with what I do, especially when I have
regular customers around the area.
Besides, I’m probably too old to think
about changing professions.’
How did you get into it? ‘I used to
work in a shoe factory where I picked up the skills of mending. I took those
skills with me and decided to open my
What kind of shoes do you specialise in? ‘I work with all kinds
of shoes and I take it as a challenge for
Most expensive shoes you’ve mended? ‘I’m not quite sure, but the original
cost of the shoe is not important to me
at all – the set of shoe repair skills is
standard and very much the same for
any brand of shoe.’
Cobbler Lee, 70+
Find him: At street level at Chinatown
MRT Station Exit C. He works daily
Charge for repair work: $4-$30.
Average time taken About 30
How long have you been a cobbler? ‘Since I was 17 years old. I plan to do
this for the rest of my life.’
How did you get into it? ‘I started
mending shoes to earn a living. I didn’t
have the privilege to choose a career
and being a cobbler seemed to be what
everyone was doing back then, so I just
picked it up at a young age.’
What kind of shoes do you specialise in? ‘All sorts. I usually
get brought a good range – from heels
to slippers and covered shoes. [I get
to work on] a good mix of men’s and
Tell us a fun fact about yourself: ‘I am mentor to Cobbler Lin [next], who works nearby…’
Cobbler Lin, 74
Find him: Street-level at Chinatown MRT Station Exit C, at the north-west corner of People’s Park Complex; daily from 8am to 6pm.
Charge for repair work $1-$15.
Average time taken: 20 minutes to an hour.
How long have you been a cobbler? ‘Over 20 years, and like Lee (previous), I plan to continue working as a cobbler until I can no longer work.’
How did you get into it? ‘I was a construction worker in my early days but had to retire from it when I was 48 years old. I then switched to this trade where I can solely depend on my own set of skills.’
What kind of shoes do you specialise in? ‘Men’s shoes – preferably leather because they are fast to repair and it’s more profitable. But I’ve worked on all kinds of shoes – from slippers and sandals to ladies heels, leather shoes.’
Most expensive shoes you’ve mended? ‘A pair of stilettos worth about $700.’
First published on 29 May 2012. Updated on 21 Jun 2012.