Q&A with Torre Major, Owner of Family-Run Orinda Shoe Repair

(Jeff Heyman, Photographer)
Orinda Shoe Repair has been a family-run business for 71 years. Torre Major (R) runs the shop with his son Tyler (L) and his wife Sherry.

    One of Orinda’s oldest businesses may be hidden away on a discreet side street in the Village, but that doesn’t mean it’s forgettable – in fact, quite the opposite. Loyal customers from Neiman Marcus in San Francisco to designer shoe devotees in Los Angeles not only discovered it, but they keep coming back for the artisan work and friendly service.
    Orinda Shoe Repair has operated as a family business for 71 years, passed down through the generations. It’s currently helmed by Torre Major with help from Sherry, his wife of 41 years, and his 31-year-old son, Tyler.

How did Orinda Shoe Repair get its start? Has it always been in the same location?
    It started with my stepdad in 1952. Originally we were where Village Pizza is now. We moved to this location (19 Avenida De Orinda) in 1958.

Have you always had a passion for shoes?
    I can remember as a little kid watching my stepdad in the shop. He taught me to work on other people’s shoes as if I was working on my own. We buy the best materials, the best polishes and source from bespoke manufacturers in Italy, Germany and France. I’ve always appreciated high-quality things.
    I like it when people, who buy well-made shoes, want to repair them instead of tossing them in a landfill. We try to keep prices low so people can keep their nice stuff. We don’t want anyone to overpay, but we have some people who pay a lot of money to preserve something they value, maybe something sentimental to them.

Do you have any other great passions?
    When I was five years old, I took my first flight with my family from Oakland to LAX. The pilot invited me into the cockpit and let me sit in there with him and he showed me around. We took off and I looked out the window. From that point on, I wanted to be a pilot.
    I got my pilot’s license and flew charters and worked as a private pilot for a family for many years. I purchased the shoe repair shop from my stepdad when he retired in 1991 to keep it in the family. Until three years ago, I worked both as a pilot and at the shop with my wife and son.

Do customers come from all over the Bay Area and beyond?
    Yes, one shoe aficionado told me he read Yelp reviews for shops from San Diego to Seattle and ours was the best. He sent us shoes to work on and when he saw our work, he was sold. He only uses us now and we ship shoes back and forth to Los Angeles.

You also repair things other than shoes. What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever worked on?
    One lady brought in a Venetian leather garbage can. Over time the bottom wore out, but we fixed it and when we were done, it looked brand new.

What do you like best about having a business in Orinda?
    When you’re nice and personable to people and you follow through on what you say you can do, they come back. I like to see the end result when the customer is happy and looks at our work and goes “Wow!” I’ve seen three generations of Orinda families. I’m surprised at how many people I’ve gotten to know over the years.

Do you know a fascinating resident or businessperson in Orinda? Send your ideas to editor@theorindanews.com.

Kathy Cordova can be reached at cordova@theorindanews.com.

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