by CC Parker
photograph by Jason Dail
Tucked into a tiny, unassuming shopping
center in the heart of Wolfpack country, Man-Mur Shoe Shop on Hillsborough Street may look like a run-of-the-mill shoe repair place, but for its longtime customers, Man-Mur is more like a real time comedy show running Monday to Fridays 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (Saturdays 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.).
At first glance, it’s easy to be deceived. Because it looks like, well, a shoe repair shop. There’s the horsey smell of leather, rows upon rows of neatly stacked shoeboxes, and the sounds of machines whirring. At the counter there is a 1958 cash register and the occasional part-time sales clerk. T-shirts printed with “I got mine at Man-Mur” share a rack with suede YMCA Y-Guide vests awaiting customer pick up.
Cousins Stephen Cash and Ronnie Massey, both wearing leather cobbler aprons, work intently in the workroom.
The phone rings.
It’s customer Harris Vaughan on the line.
Cash: “Good Morning, Man-Mur, how may I help you?”
Vaughan: “Good morning, I’m checking to see if my repair is ready.”
Cash: “Name please…”
Vaughan: “Bill Clinton”
Cash: “Sorry, Mr. Clinton, we weren’t able to get the stain out of that dress.”
They don’t miss a beat – or a chance to take the bait. Customers cycle through the store all day, and the banter is constant. They’re like the Car Talk guys on NPR – without the cars.
Longtime clients know to bypass the front counter altogether and wait in the workroom instead. If you sit back there, you can ask them about the Dom Delouise photo hanging on the wall.
Massey: “He bought two of my mama’s afghans to give to Burt (Reynolds) and Loni (Anderson) when they had those babies.”
Cash: “Bought those babies.”
Massey: “Yea, they were too old to have them on their own. Anyway, my mama charged him $60 for them and he wrote a check for $100. The address said ‘Los Angeles’ and everything. She never cashed that check. Framed it and put it up in the store”.
Cash: “He was a really funny guy. He came back later to get a pair of Birkenstocks. Had the thickest foot you’ve ever seen. He saw a bag of apples that we had behind the counter and asked if he could sniff it. He was at the (Duke) Rice Diet again….”
Some unprintable back-and-forth ensues.
Man-Mur is a family affair. The family opened its first store in Durham in Five Points in the ’50s and they bought the Hillsborough street shop, which the cousins run, in 1982. The store’s name was inherited from the previous shop owners who said that Raleigh’s location is halfway between our state’s two furthest points: Manteo and Murphy.
You can ask them how business is going at this prime, super-central location, now that Hillsborough street is no longer under construction.
Cash: “Business is good, but don’t tell anyone. As soon as business is good, they’ll have a race and shut down Hillsborough Street and our customers can’t get here. Or the President comes to visit and they shut down everything between here and Blue Ridge Road.”
Laughter all around at the unprintable punch line, except for their Man-Mur co-workers, Lizanne Butner and Antonio Hernandez, who hear this talk all day and completely tune it out.
The cousins’ banter is definitely not everyone’s speed. I watched as a visiting young New York City professional – much worn cowboy boots in hand – milled about the store waiting to be helped. When one of the aproned cousins appeared silently behind her and boomed: “What can I DO for YOU?” She bolted straight through the front door.
The truth is, the cousins like to tease, but they take their product very seriously. Man-Mur sells a range of mostly American-made shoes ranging from Birkenstocks to Rainbow flip-flops to Clarks. They do not discount. They also pride themselves on being able to fix any leather product: horse bridles, luggage, purses, leather coats, and every sort of shoe.
Butner is the YMCA Y-Guide vest expert, assembling the distinctive leather vests for dads and their kids, and sewing on their various badges. She recently customized a vest for a man who named himself “The Yeti” and wanted a fur collar. The pelt hung nearby.
Butner’s specialty, however, is custom-fitting women’s boots. It usually takes two fittings, but she can tailor the shaft of the boot to fit its owner’s calf perfectly. She also works magic enlarging and reducing leather and skin belts.
She may be a valued member of the team, but the cousins cut her no slack.
Cash: “Ronnie, what is Lizanne’s last name.”
Massey: “Butner. Yep, like the prison. It’s where she needs to be. I tell her that all the time. Up at Butner with Bernie Madoff.”
Massey beams broadly, tickled. Butner yawns.
With Butner’s special finishes, Cash’s cobbling expertise, and Massey’s product knowledge, Man-Mur patrons trust the staff with their finest footwear. The prettiest pair of Manolo Blahnik heels that I’ve ever seen was awaiting pickup my last visit to the shop.
Hopefully the owner of the lovely shoes didn’t park next door. Parking is limited in the Man-Mur lot, so customers often park there to dash in to retrieve their items. Their neighbor has booted and towed many Man-mur clients. In retaliation, the cousins have posted a prominent sign warning of “predatory towing and booting practices” next door. The war rages on.
A happier neighbor is Coffee Haven, two doors down. Cash owns this establishment as well and says that the coffee business is fine, though he’s hopeful for the day when marijuana is legalized in North Carolina so that he can turn the coffee shop into a “pot shop.”
Overhearing this, Massey chimes in from the rear workroom. He claims that the week Colorado legalized marijuana, everyone was so stoned, all the planes were grounded on the tarmac. Everyone in the shop stops to ponder his statement. It’s at moments like this that you hear the faint strain of Dueling Banjos.
Sometimes it’s not what they cousins actually say that’s funny.
A few years ago I came in to buy several pairs of Rainbow flip flops for Easter baskets. Shocked at the expense, I suggested that they let me “buy one, get one free”.
Stephen stopped abruptly, giving me a pitying look, but remained silent. Waiting. It took me several seconds to realize that when buying a pair of shoes, that’s just what I was getting.
Man-Mur: 2704 Hillsborough Street. 919-832-7330. Monday to Friday 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Saturdays 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.