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Immigrant Finds Success in Shoe Repair Business

  • June Soh

People around the world emigrate to the United States seeking a better life. And many of them achieve their dreams by running a small business. Steve Doudaklian's family is among them. His father came to the U.S. more than three decades ago from Lebanon and opened a shoe repair business outside Washington that quickly became known for its quality services. Steve Doudaklian is a fourth generation shoe craftsman.

Steve Doudaklian is doing what he loves to do: making old shoes new again. He inherited this 70-year-old stitching machine from his father.

“I work 12, 13 hours a day. It goes by real fast. And I enjoy every minute of it," said Doudaklian.

Doudaklian grew up watching his father, a master craftsman, making shoes in his shop in Lebanon.

“When we moved from Lebanon, we were in a civil war for two years. My dad packed up the family with five kids and came here," he said.

Not knowing English and not having a lot of money, Doudaklian says his father decided to start doing work similar to what he was used to.

“He borrowed some money here and there. He went into the shoe repair business, which was a little bit less hard than to open up a factory custom-making shoes," he said.

Bedros Doudaklian gave the business his nickname - BEDO’s Shoe Repair. That was 35 years ago.

But Steve Doudaklian says his family has far deeper roots in shoe craftsmanship, tracing back to his great- grandfather who emigrated from Armenia to Lebanon.

He proudly hangs his great-grandfather’s picture in the shop, along with one of his grandfather and father, who were all custom shoemakers. He also displays some of the machines and tools that he inherited.

"The business was growing. We had a small location down the street about four blocks. I needed to expand. I needed to get a bigger place," said Doudaklian.

After his father died 23 years ago, Doudaklian bought an old abandoned house, tore it down and erected a new building. He also changed the name of the business to Bedo’s Leatherworks.

“We were fixing shoes 35 years ago. We still are now. But we are custom-making leather goods. We are repairing jackets, we are repairing purses, we are repairing luggage," he said.

With two employees, Doudaklian says his business is a success, but it comes with hard work.

“Sure we get tired sometimes but most of the time, it is very rewarding. [It is] just the gratifying feeling that I get when customers love what we have done, and they put a smile on their face,"he said.

“He is wonderful. It is like a getting a brand new pair of shoes when he does repair. We are so lucky to have him in Falls Church,' said a customer.

Doudaklian has received awards that include a Best Business Award from the City of Falls Church and won a Silver Cup at a nationwide shoe repair contest last year.

Doudaklian also gives back to his community. He reconditions customers' unwanted shoes and donates them to area charities that help the homeless and others in need.

“This is a donated shoe. What we try to do is at least make it look a little better than what it came in there. They are not new shoes, but you know what, if you don’t have any shoes on your feet, these are better than new shoes," he said.

Doudaklian hopes that one day, he can have more time to custom-make shoes and handbags for his customers.