Meet third-generation shoemaker Mohammed Alami

Working with leather comes easy to La Jolla shoemaker Mohammed Alami
(Ashley Mackin)

Although third-generation shoemaker Mohammed Alami has had a repair shop in La Jolla for just under two years, he’s had a longtime following of loyal customers that spans more than 20 years. Specializing in the repair of women’s shoes and leather goods, his shop sits at 7514 La Jolla Blvd. (near Pearl Street). He also helps those with orthopedic needs who live in surrounding assisted living facilities.

Where are you from originally?

“Casablanca, Morocco. I’ve been in the United States since 1979. My sisters moved out here before me and I decided to follow them out. I’m the only one in California, but that’s OK because I have a few good friends here.”

How did you get into this business?

“I’m a third-generation shoemaker, but I’m also the last one. I have a daughter who is a nurse, so no one will follow me in the business. But my father and grandfather were shoemakers, and I’m a shoemaker by trade, but I’m also a chef and a butcher. My dad owned three businesses and trained me in all three. But now I’m just doing this.”

Of those options, why did you choose to make shoes?

“I had a restaurant before, but it was hard to please everyone and keep up with the food industry. I found myself working 16 hours a day and it got to be too much for me. I did that until 24 years ago, when I decided to start this business.”

Why did you choose La Jolla for your store?

“I was in Pacific Beach for 22 years and it got really bad in terms of crime and drug- and alcohol-related behavior. I felt like I was babysitting the shop … and I had had enough. I’m here to make a living, I’m not here to see people mess around. Plus, a lot of my clients came from La Jolla to Pacific Beach to see me, so I thought I would come here.”

What does an average day consist of?

“The number of clients I get varies day to day, sometimes its five, sometimes its 10. … And the thing people come in here for most, is advice. They’ll bring some shoes and ask how to take care of them or what they can do to preserve them better.

But I also do a lot of heel repairs and sole repairs, dying jobs when shoes are scuffed or paint comes off, and other leather repairs, specifically jackets and purses.

I also do a lot of orthopedic work to shoes to make them more supportive for those with certain needs. If someone has one leg longer than the other, I can make it so the shoe evens things out. Of if they need more support, I’ll build an arch into their shoes.

I do everything by myself, because there aren’t a lot of people who have the expertise I have on these services.”

Are there any challenges with this business?

“Parking is a challenge here, the whole street (fronting the store) is two-hour parking, but people from some of the surrounding businesses will park here all day. One time, someone had their car here for days. This is La Jolla, it’s high class, and I think that brings things down to have a business van parked here all day. Some of the businesses are inconsiderate, but others are run by very nice people.

It’s especially tough for me because a lot of my customers are from White Sands, Wesley Palms or other senior facilities. They have orthopedic problems and can’t walk very far, so someone has to drop them off. If someone older comes to me and needs me to fix their shoes so they can walk, but they have to park a few blocks away and walk, it becomes a problem. I never park in front of the business, I’ll go a few blocks away, so I can keep the spaces in front open.”

What are some misconceptions people have about shoe repair?

“I don’t charge based on how much the shoes cost, I charge based on the work. I’ll do the same service on an expensive pair of shoes and a cheap pair of shoes and charge the same amount.”

Next week: Meet La Jolla Riford Library’s Dennis Abad.