Antonio "Tony" Munoz's hands are rough and traces of black shoe polish stain his fingertips.
No doubt a testament to how long Munoz has been repairing, re-soling and polishing shoes in his shop, located on the lower level of 115 North Oak Park Blvd. Munoz has operated his namesake business, Tony's Shoe Clinic, for nearly two decades and worked there even longer before eventually buying the business.
Over the years, he has seen competitors come and go, possibly making his shop the last remaining shoe repair business in the village. At one point, Munoz recalled Oak Park having 13 shoe repair shops. Now it is down to one — his.
Longevity for Munoz, a native of Mexico, is a combination of hard work, dedication and plain ole good quality service.
Oak Park resident Jerome Reese can attest to that. He's been a customer of Tony's Shoe Clinic for 31 years. The quality, he said, far exceeds some upscale downtown shoe stores, like Brooks Brothers.
"The craftsmanship put into the shoes makes it look brand new," Reese said of Munoz's handiwork.
Indeed Munoz, 59, prides himself on the quality of his work, which includes mending purses, fixing canvas tents and some light work for jewelry.
"They like my work," said the father of four. Munoz operates the shop with his daughter, Karen, son, Jaime and their cousin, Jose.
It's the promptness in repairing shoes and returning them within 24 hours that keeps customers coming back, explained Karen, who often works the front counter with her dad.
"Customers love him. He does good work. He has been doing it ever since he came to U.S.," she added.
Growing up in Mexico, Tony Munoz never dreamed of owning a business. But he couldn't pass up an opportunity to buy the place where he worked for the last 35 years. When the previous owner, also named Tony, became ill and unable to manage the business, Munoz took over. Eventually he bought the place. He has owned the shoe repair shop for the last 21 years.
His daughter said her father saw the business' potential and knew it had room to grow.
"He made it what it is now," Karen Munoz said.
For some, Tony Munoz's success as an entrepreneur typifies the American Dream. But he doesn't quite see it that way. His daughter says her father often works seven days a week, even holidays and only gets three vacation days out the year.
"All he does is work," Karen Munoz said. "I imagine he wants to do something else other than being in the shop seven days a week — even on Sundays where he comes in to catch up on work. He's a work-a-holic."
"It's a lot of work," added Tony Munoz, who's at the shop from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. to provide the quick turnaround customers have come to expect.
But for Munoz it's worth it. He wanted a better life for his family, more than what Mexico could provide. That's why he emigrated from Jalisco, Mexico 36 years ago. He toiled 10 years making shoes in a Mexico factory since the age of 12. But with a growing family, Munoz knew life would be better in America. He made his way to the Chicago area and landed a job at the shop.
"I'm extremely proud of him, where he has come from and what he has achieved," Karen Munoz said of her dad. "What makes this shop a success is his dedication to it. No one would dedicate this much time to a business."
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