FAMILY HERITAGE: Coombs Shoe Service store manager Sandra Doueihi is Robert Atallah's wife. Picture: Supplied.

FAMILY HERITAGE: Coombs Shoe Service store manager Sandra Doueihi is Robert Atallah's wife. Picture: Supplied.

Heart and sole: The craft extending the life of much-loved footwear - and helping to save the planet

Heart and sole: The craft extending the life of much-loved footwear - and helping to save our planet

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Craftsman Nicholas Atallah loves to see a comfortable, worn in pair of well-made shoes that have received the love and care they need and deserve. He owns a pair of boots he bought when he was just 24 - he's now 59 - and they continue to serve him well.

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This is sponsored content for Coombs Shoe Service.

Craftsman Nicholas Atallah loves to see a comfortable, worn in pair of well-made shoes that have received the love and care they need and deserve. He owns a pair of boots he bought when he was just 24 - he's now 59 - and they continue to serve him well.

"They are still one of my favourite pairs of boots," said Nicholas, who is the eleventh generation in a family of shoemakers and repairers. "I remember exactly when I bought them - I was out shopping with a friend and I saw these boots. They cost me about $250 back then."

In these days of ever-increasing awareness about the environmental impact of "fast fashion" throwaway clothes and shoes clogging up landfill, along with growing appreciation of the value in investing in quality, the skills of an experienced cobbler are rising in demand.

"I think of our business as helping to save the environment, in our own small way," said Nicholas. "It's important people realise that buying quality shoes and then maintaining and repairing them rather than buying cheap shoes and having to throw them away after six months is good for the environment, as well as financially better in the long run."

In partnership with his cousin Robert, also a skilled cobbler, Nicholas operates the Atallah family's long-running businesses, Coombs Shoe Service in Sydney's iconic Strand Arcade, as well as Brice's Shoe Repairs just down the road in Castlereagh Street.

OLD FAVOURITES: Before and after of a loved pair of RM Williams boots that have seen plenty of action. Pictures: Supplied.

OLD FAVOURITES: Before and after of a loved pair of RM Williams boots that have seen plenty of action. Pictures: Supplied.

After taking over the management of the businesses in March this year, the duo who share a deep passion for their craft as well as dedication to continuing the family legacy, have set about taking their message and skills beyond the city to a wider shoe appreciation audience.

They are offering a free return postal service so people outside Sydney can also access the services of experienced cobblers who take so much pride in their work.

"We have a lot of customers who come from the country who come to us when they are in Sydney and drop their shoes off to be done while they're here," said Nicholas. "Robert and I decided it would only be fair to help our regional customers out. There are plenty of people in the country who are doing it tough with the drought, the bushfires and now COVID."

The cousins began learning their craft more than 30 years ago from the expert cobblers who worked for their fathers, Michel and Wally, in the shoe repair business Michel purchased after migrating to Australia and settling in Sydney in 1947.

We tried a few other jobs but they didn't feed our soul like working with our hands and being a cobbler did, and still does.

Part of a long family line of shoe makers in Lebanon, Michel - Nicholas' father - had spotted the need for shoe repairers in his new home and bought his first shop in Newtown in 1954. He worked to expand the business, eventually operating around 15 stores, and bringing more and more family members into the business - including brother Wally. Michel also established a successful business selling supplies to other shoe repairers.

When the highly-respected Coombs Shoe Service and Brice's Shoe Repair businesses came up for sale Michel bought those as well. They have been operated by the Atallah family for more than 60 years.

"When dad and his family took the shop over there were nearly 30 people working at Coombs," said Nicholas. "Back then everyone wore leather shoes and everyone got their shoes fixed; it was a lot cheaper than buying a new pair. They used to hand stitch soles, it was an art, a trade that took time to learn. I learned from two Italian guys who worked there."

IN THE BLOOD: Cobbler John Saad at work at Coombs Shoe Service. Picture: Supplied

IN THE BLOOD: Cobbler John Saad at work at Coombs Shoe Service. Picture: Supplied

Following their fathers' wishes, both Nicholas and Robert initially left the business to pursue other careers but they were drawn back to the craft they grew up with and got the most satisfaction from.

"I love the job, I love it as a craft, as a bespoke trade. It's got a story, it's got a heritage and an honesty to it," Nicholas said.

"Robert and I both knew absolutely this was what we wanted to do. We tried a few other jobs but they didn't feed our soul like working with our hands and being a cobbler did, and still does.

"With every individual job we do we carry the expectations of our forebears on our shoulders, our 11 generations of shoe makers before us."

An authorised repairer of RM Williams boots, Coombs Shoe Service and Brices Shoe Repairs have been family owned for 60 years providing the skills and attention to detail that come from generations of experience and craftsmanship. The business is now offering a free return postal service in New South Wales. Call Robert on 02 92311784 or 0478 591173 to arrange an over the phone quote for any shoe, boot or leather good repair, or email rob.atallah.shoes@gmail.com Follow them on Instagram.

This is sponsored content for Coombs Shoe Service.

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