Footwear Forum
July, 1996

The Sandalman at his work bench

by Doris Montanera

"David Carradine wanted these, "says Cory Bernatt, holding out a well worn pair of sandals whose faded leather is discolored from years of contact with human skin. These sandals, circa 1978 are a part of Bernatt's history. They were one of the first pairs he ever made. He was 14 years old.

Bernatt rediscovered his treasure a few years ago when the original owner brought them in to be resoled. After a brief sojourn at The Sandalman Leathercare, his two-room leather repair shop in Toronto's well-heeled Bloor-Yorkville shopping district, this fall that pair becomes part of The Bata shoe museum's collection. At 31, Bernatt already has more than a quarter century of experience behind him. He began learning the leather trade with his father when he was just six years old. By the time he was 11, he sold his first hand made purse. When he was 17, he bought his fathers shop, then called Jekyll & Hide, changed the name to its current moniker, moved and expanded, and has been running it ever since. Last summer, readers of NOW, a weekly news and entertainment magazine voted him Toronto's best leather repair shop.

Today, he has a full-time tailor on staff who mends and alters leather clothing for his clients such as Harry Rosen, Town Shoes, Danier and Banana Republic. This, along with antique leather restoration and upholstering, making custom bags, belts, jackets, and vests, are the main stays of his business.

Footwear comprises a small part of his trade since he has rarely advertised them. But his sandals--updated hippie-style basics--are one-of-a-kind, made in rich hunter green, burgundy, chocolate brown in black Italian leathers or natural, honey-colored leather from the States. Customers choose the style and skin (arch support is optional as well), and the price, $125 to $300.

They are highly regarded: Bernatts 1978 sandal replica stars along with Carradine on TV's "Kung Fu: The Legend Continues," and has also graced the feet of cast members in the Toronto production of the musical Miss Saigon.

Bernatt's business sense--and media savvy-- are readily apparent. Amidst serving customers, who seem to arrive at steady 10 minute intervals, he ask's his sister Rachael to recondition sample sandals for the photo shoot, prepares to take his picture--arranging an area and putting on one of his custom designed vests for the shot--and points out the collection of vintage leather goods he thinks a journalist should see: child-sized sample shoes that are more than 50 years old, and baby alligator bags from the 1920s that feature real alligator heads on the front flap.

His efficiency makes him seem a serious sort--a misconception soon rectified. "Did you see this?" he asks, indicating an old fashioned blackboard on the wall. "Publick notices," it says. And beneath, in neat white chalk, "Six muntz ago I kunint even spel lederwoiker and now I are one. Mangler"

His card is more subtle: "The Sandalman Leathercare, " it reads. "Established 1964." The year he was born.

Some samples of the Sandalmans work.

Some samples of The Sandalmans work, including one of the first pairs he made, are a part of the Bata Shoe Museum Collection.

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The Sandalman Leathercare
1181 Davenport Road (corner of Oakwood and Davenport)
Toronto, Ontario, Canada, M6H 2V3
Hours 11-6 Tuesday to Friday 11-5 Saturday
Closed Sunday and Monday
416-533-6-335 (same backwards)

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