Longtime cobbler Barry Friedman, left, hands an old glue pot with decades and decades of glue layers over to town historian Richard Holmes. The glue pot is one of several of Friedman's Continental Cobbler shop items he is donating to Holmes to display in the town's museum of history. Friedman has run the shop for almost three decades and is retiring at the end of April.

DERRY | Step into the Continental Cobbler Shop and it's a step back into shoe repair history | a soothing whiff of leather accompanies the shelves of tools, tacks, stitching equipment | and the town's one last master of this historical craft gets ready to say goodbye.

Barry Friedman has owned and operated the cobbler shop on Merchants Row for almost three decades and will retire at the end of this month, ending another chapter in Derry's rich shoemaking history.

Town historian Richard Holmes and town workers came to Friedman's shop last week to remove a large stitching machine weighing several hundred pounds. Friedman donated the machine to the town's history museum where it will take a place of honor next to many other shoe industry artifacts from Derry's past.

Friedman also gave Holmes his old glue pot, encased with layers and layers, years and years of gooey glue that had cemented many a sole over the course of the cobbler's long career.

"This is an absolute end to an era," Holmes said as he strolled around the shop while workers tugged and pulled the stitching machine through a narrow doorway. The aroma in the air gave one a sense of all the history and years of straggly, tattered shoes making their way into Friedman's shop looking for new life.

"It smells like a new car," Holmes added.

For Friedman, the time is right to end his shoe era and relax and enjoy life. The shoe-shaped sign hanging outside his quaint repair shop is gone, also a donation to the history museum.

Friedman has lived in the United States since 1964, coming to America from his native Poland and bringing his cobbler craft along. Along with shoe repair, Friedman's career offered customers antique leather work and restoration, leather items for horses such as saddles and bridles were repaired, and even a suitcase found its way to Friedman for some stitching help and repair.

He spent years dipping a brush into the glue pot, with all the layers and facets of his craft and talent oozing down the side of the small vessel, creating a sticky sense of historical importance along the way. Holmes said every cobbler had a glue pot.

"Here are decades and decades of glue," Holmes said. "He is the last cobbler in Derry, and we'll never see it like this again."

For Derry, the last cobbler standing is a defining moment in the town's strong shoe industry history, Holmes added.

"This was the industry that made Derry," Holmes said.

The historian said most of the town, at one time or another, was making shoes. Derry's seven shoe factories employed nearly 3,000 of the town's population in the mid-1800s during the industry's richest time.

Factories had names such as the H.E.H. shoe factory, the Derry Shoe Factory, and the Woodbury company, burning in 1916 and putting hundreds of local men and women out of work.

The shoe industry kept many families afloat until 1989 when Derry's last shoe factory, Klev-Bros. Shoe Co., closed its doors.

"For many years, that was Derry's life," Holmes said. "Everybody was working in the shoe factory."

The history museum has many shoe industry items on display, including old shoemaking items, metal lunchboxes, shoes made in Derry, a cobbler's anvil, and a union dues book belonging to 1936 shoe worker Anna Chase. Friedman's Continental Cobbler items will add a new bit of history to the exhibit, Holmes said.

History books said the Continental Cobbler shop stands on the site of Derry's first shoe factory on Merchants Row and when it closes, a chapter of the town's history book goes with it, Holmes said. And Friedman's shoe repair story will end as well.

"He is like the last leaf on a big oak tree," Holmes said. "The last of a breed."

Holmes said Friedman's craft is one of rich tradition, but the man deserves a rest. Friedman agreed and said "it was time to go."

Friedman retires April 30. To learn more about the town's shoe history, visit the history museum in the Adams Memorial Building. The museum is free and open Thursday and Sunday afternoons from 1 to 4 p.m. or by appointment by calling 434-1247.

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