BY RENE TORRES
Today, under new ownership, the building that was once owned and that housed the Olvera Shoe Repair Shop is going through a facelift.
Victor Olvera started the business of mending soles in the Market Square area in 1926.
In the beginning, the square was one of the liveliest places in the city. It was the center of business activity — a focal point in the city where vendors of all kinds sold their wares.
Brownsville and the country enjoyed the benefits of the roaring 20s, when the country was in a festive mood and business was booming.
But just like any business, the shoe repair shop had its ups and downs. Regardless of the status of the economy, the shop survived the Depression and war years.
A long-time employee of the shop, Jose Llamas, said, “As money gets tighter, people want their things to last longer.”
The favorite footwear of then, was not ready for the shoe cemetery until it made several visits to Olvera’s and/or passed through the hand-me-down cycle.
The idea of diversification, and the fact that it was the only shop in town that provided “while-you-wait repair,” helped the store to endure.
Yes, in the good days the shop had a gallery of shoes perched among the shelves. When that part of the business slowed, it was Olvera’s other business interest that kept the cash register ringing.
According to one of his sons, Rolando, a retired pharmacist, his father never stood around to see his own shadow.
He was never content with the status quo — always on the trail to fill his shelves with that unique product.
Besides repairing wounded soles, the store also served as a pawn shop. His army surplus business did well enough to compete with Whitman’s, which was mere steps away from the shop.
One side of the building faces the heart of the historical Market Square, while the opposite side, fronts Washington Street.
If you needed money, Olvera could also accommodate you with a loan and in the same breath, rent you a room located on the upstairs of the building.
Mr. Olvera died in 1973, and his son with the same name, took command of the iconic shop, only to face some hard times in the 1980s. But as time progressed, the shop avoided slumps by providing consistent quality care at affordable prices.
Victor Jr. maintained a healthy list of customers by employing the same business sense used by his father.
On or about the year 1996, Victor’s son, Mike, oversaw the business that still employed workable vintage equipment that dated to the early 1900s. Some of the tools of the trade might have been old, but the quality and service was always up-to-date.
As the business ambiance around Market Square changed, the shop made a move to a different site. Mike, who vowed to keep the shop open if he could — relocated to Boca Chica Boulevard. After several successful years at that location, the business took its final curtain call.
The journey that began in the 1920s, lasted long enough to be part of the world-wide web.
Victor Olvera, restored thousands of soles throughout the decades. People from all walks of life came through the shop — to leave behind their leather treasures to see another day. The shoe shop business faded, but the building will remain etched in Brownsville’s history, to serve as a remainder of the business stature of Victor Olvera.
He was the epitome of a good businessman.