At Village Cobbler, Hector Avila can still be found toiling behind the scenes alongside his daughter, Vanessa.
Vanessa Avila has spent her entire life immersed in shoes. The 34-year-old is a second-generation cobbler whose family has been a trusted resource among locals for decades. Her uncle Jorge’s The Cobbler Shoppe was a fixture at Stanford Shopping Center for 33 years. Her uncle Rosendo’s outfit was once located in what is now Santana Row. And her father, Hector, operated Village Cobbler at Town & Country from 1979 until 2009, when he relocated to downtown Palo Alto. While the current storefront’s proximity to the Hewlett-Packard Garage, IDEO and Palantir Technologies is a reminder that this is a town known for innovation, within the four walls of Village Cobbler, the Avilas are continuing a centuries-old craft.
Working with leather is in their blood, says Vanessa, whose grandfather was a saddler. After Rosendo got a job as a cobbler, he enlisted his brothers. The torch has now been passed to Vanessa, a Palo Alto High School alumna. “From watching my dad work ever since I was little, after school and during breaks, I have learned a lot from him—how to stitch, how to do patchwork, how to refinish and dye shoes,” she says.
In addition to shoes, repairs are made on belts, handbags and luggage—basically, any leather goods. Nothing is deemed ready for the customer without Vanessa’s approval. Her attention to detail is no doubt appreciated by the outfit’s retail clientele, among them Stuart Weitzman and Neiman Marcus. Roxanne Deblauwe, a former manager at the department store who is now a fashion consultant, has long relied on Village Cobbler. “My clients love their shoes, so when it comes to special care, Vanessa is my go-to,” she says. “She can do miracles and has that Old World skill that is very hard to find these days.”
Indeed, for Vanessa and her kin, their vocation comes with a sense of stewardship, whether there’s a designer name stamped on the soles or not. “We put in the same work and effort for all of them,” she says. “Some shoes may not look like much, but they have sentimental value. You never know the story behind the shoes.” 825 Emerson St., Palo Alto
Originally published in the March/April issue of Silicon Valley