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Tucked away in T station, shoe repair shop is hidden gem

Posted by Emily Files  November 9, 2012 12:33 PM

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Head underground into the Downtown Crossing T station, and you'll find a man who has developed a reputation as a regular Mr. Fix-it.

At Downtown Crossing Instant Shoe Repair, 50-year-old Russian emigre Steve Ismintsev repairs shoes, jackets, handbags and more. And he does it fast.

"Ninety-five percent of repairs are in and out," said Ismintsev, a former a civil engineer who came to the United States in 1994 and took over the stand five years ago.

If you don't take his word for it, just watch for awhile. Customers approach the shoe-stand window with their shoes tucked away in a plastic bag, slide them over the counter, and a few minutes later they'll have them back, all fixed up.

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Mark Chester from Roxbury is one of those customers. After spending about 3 minutes and $6 at the shop, Chester was on his way with repaired shoes. He seemed satisfied with the product, and has been in the past as well. He's a regular.

"I come here about every other month," Chester said, before heading off to catch a train.

The shop has drawn positive reviews online as well. On Yelp, 18 of the shop's 20 reviews are 4 or 5 stars (out of a maximum of 5). One reviewer even goes as far as to call Ismintsev a "shoe wizard."

Ismintsev, who drives partway from his Newton home each day, parks the car in an inexpensive lot and bikes the remaining distance, says he likes being in a business that is fast and cheap. He equates his establishment's popularity to the appeal of a fast-food restaurant.

"What if McDonalds were anything else?" he said. "Life is fast. It's a city life. Nobody has the time."

Ismintsev explained that it's a time frame that works for both him and customers: Customers get their items back fast, and his work doesn't pile up.

But with back problems getting worse, Ismintsev has sought out some help. About a month ago, he brought on Iman Avo as an extra hand to help him. He showed Avo how to do everything and feels comfortable enough with him to let him tend the shop on his own.

Despite the good reviews, Ismintsev admits the stand isn't doing as well as when he started up.

"Business has dropped," he said "But there's still traffic because it's a subway," he said.

This article is being published under an arrangement between the Boston Globe and Emerson College.

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