The Cobbler on Claiborne

On North Claiborne Avenue, beneath I-10’s concrete canopy, lies an unimposing storefront, Leather Lilly Shoe Repair.

“I’m in the historic Claiborne neighborhood,” says Lee Tabb, owner and master cobbler. “This is where I was born and raised. This is where I grew up. I’m proud of this neighborhood.”

For seven years, in this 500-square-foot. space, he’s been shining and repairing shoes and working on all things leather.

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“I repair those things people just don’t want to throw away,” he says as he vigorously applies black polish into a black Oxford. “Or people bring me stuff they found at a thrift store and they want me to refurbish it.”

He works long hours, from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. he works on shoes. When he locks the shop’s door, he turns his attention to his other projects. He works on everything from saddles to earrings. In addition, Tabb and his fiancé and business manager, Elizabeth Billiot, create many of their own designs. Currently, he’s repairing the crown of someone’s much-treasured hat in his dusty workspace.

“When my shop is really clean it means I’m not getting any work done.”

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He puts down the Oxford and picks up a small salvage piece of leather to show me a bit of his process. He wets the leather to soften it, and then he stamps it. He taps a metal tool with a yellow mallet and begins to carve out the design.

“It takes a long time to even do just a small piece,” he says. “That’s why my stuff isn’t cheap. Good work isn’t cheap and cheap work isn’t good but I’m reasonable.”

He works for a wide variety of clients some infamous and famous. He recently made Lea Michele’s studded eye patch, the one worn in her role as Hester Ulrich in “Scream Queens.”

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"Good work isn’t cheap and cheap work isn’t good but I’m reasonable."


“My clients trust me and keep coming back,” he says. “If I were my customer, I’d come back.”

Word-of-mouth advertising gets the job done for him. Tabb also relies on Google and Yelp.

“I don’t have a website,” he says. “I just use Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. I’m not rolling in money but I don’t worry about dinner either.”

From just the shoes he shines and repairs, his annual income is about $70,000.  His most profitable time of year is Jazz Fest.

“People come for the fun and the hand-crafted artsy things,” he says. “People seek me out from all over.”


"I’m not rolling in money but I don’t worry about dinner either."


When Tabb was a youth he was in constant trouble and eventually found himself behind bars. When he was released, he was offered a chance to work at a shoeshine stand.

“I met with my probation officer and he asked me how I liked the job. I told him I loved it. And he said, ‘I’ve been there three times and never saw you there once. I’m coming back tomorrow and you better be there or it’s back to jail.’”

The next day Tabb went back and after a few days he started to enjoy the work.  Two years later, when the owner was retiring, he offered to sell Tabb the entire shoe repair business.

“I gathered up $7,000 and I bought the business. I became the happiest man in the world. It’s the only job I’ve ever had and I’ve been doing it for almost 20 years.”

Tabb believes in his community and knows the importance of giving back.

“If someone says they can’t pay, I just say,  “Don’t worry about it, enjoy your shoes,’” he says. “You gotta give back. If you don’t give it it won’t come back.”

 

 

Leather Lilly Shoe Repair
Master Cobbler

1509 N. Claiborne Ave.
400-7639

 

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