Moving forward but looking back

Walk into the small shoe-repair shop on North 45th Street and you'll see Birkenstock soles and leather boots piled high next to machinery.
Old black-and-white photographs of George Swanson and Swanson Shoe Repair Shop line a wall near the entrance.
It's the kind of place where a customer's IOU is still accepted, but credit cards are not.
Danny Swanson, George's son and store owner since 1990, stands behind the counter in his apron, with a welcoming smile. His sister, Patty Mayhle, who helps run the shop, pops out of the back with a smile rivaling her brother's.

Some would say they got those smiles from their father.

George Swanson, a man whose customers and community members alike counted as a trusted friend, passed away last June after a battle with cancer. His funeral service at St. Benedict's Catholic Church in Wallingford was reportedly so full, it was standing-room-only. Friends gathered from all over to remember a man whose likeability was rarely rivaled.

Their father's footsteps
The Wallingford shop opened in 1947, after moving from its original location in Downtown Seattle. where the Swansons' Swedish immigrant grandfather, George Swanson Sr., started the business in 1928.

Danny and Patty's father, George Swanson Jr., soon followed in his father's footsteps and ran the Wallingford shop for 30 years before retiring in 1990.

"Instead of 12-hour days, he'd work eight hours," Danny said of his father's semi-retirement. "He was always here to bounce questions off of."

George Jr. focused on customized fitting work like repairing leather luggage, replacing zippers in jackets and handbags and resizing riding boots. It was a skill that George taught daughter Patty because her brothers, Dave and Danny, did not want to learn.

After George passed away, Danny could not keep up with both the fitting work and shoe repair, so he tried to phase out the custom fitting. Last November, his sister came to work at the shop, leaving a job she held for 23 years, to once again hone the fitting skills her father had taught her.

"When Dad became sick, he couldn't finish a pair of riding boots for a woman customer. After about eight months, I came in and finished them," Patty said.

"It was very emotional for her to finish the last job Dad had started," Danny added.

Lifting spirits
While their father's skills ranged from sewing in new zippers to re-heeling leather shoes, one of his more enjoyable jobs was repairing and sizing the riding boots for the Seattle Police Department Motorcycle Unit and Mounted Patrol.

"Dad developed a wonderful relationship with them that lasted throughout his whole career," Danny said.

It was so wonderful that after Ann Martin, of the Motorcycle Unit, learned how serious his illness had become, she asked a squadron of motorcycle officers to stop over at Swanson's house to boost his spirits. Police motorcycles soon lined up in front of the Swansons' home. George, who hadn't awoken from sleep in days, woke up when they arrived and began talking with the officers, beaming a smile that hadn't been seen in a long time.

Officer John Abraham, one of the officers present on the ride, remembered what a great mentor George was and how he always had a story to tell.

"I was very sad when he died," Abraham said. "It was a great loss."

The Swanson family has found support through friends, the community and former customers.

"Instead of shock and grief, people would start to tell stories about him," Danny said.

Jerry Hicklin is one of those people. He remembers the first time he met George Swanson as a rookie in the Motorcycle Unit in the early 1980s: "George welcomed me like I had been there forever, which was nice because I was a rookie with a senior officer."

"I never saw George in a bad mood or not smiling," Hicklin continued. "You stopped in even if you didn't have any work to be done, just to talk."

Leaving a legacy
George Swanson touched the lives of many people throughout the community and within his tiny shop. From his children's childhood friends who looked up to him as a surrogate father, to the loyal customers who drove in from Bellingham or Whidbey Island to have their shoes repaired, people were drawn to George's good nature.

Although the loss has been difficult for everyone, his family has found solace in his legacy. Danny and Patty, smiles and all, greet a customer and start a friendly conversation reminiscent of their father.

"Dad's here. The smells and the sound of the machinery - his presence is still here," Patty said.[[In-content Ad]]