High Street stalwart Peter shuts up shop

ONE of the stalwarts of Staple Hill High Street has retired, after running the same shop for 35 years.

Peter Reiss took over Express Key and Locksmith Services, next to the Portcullis pub, in 1989.

The shop, which opened in the late 1950s or early 60s as Devon & Exeter Shoe Repairs, finally closed its doors in May, and is now set to be refurbished, along with the accommodation above, by new owners.

Pete, from Fishponds, turns 75 in June.

He cut his last keys as customers came in to wish him the best for the future, after a career in the trade stretching back to 1964.

Pete acknowledges he is seen as a “bit of a character” by the customers, and is known for his straight talking.

He said: “I don’t beat about the bush!”

Pete left Connaught Road School in Knowle West in 1964, aged 15, and started working for Devon & Exeter Shoe Repairs in Fairfax Street in the city centre before a two-year apprenticeship with Lennards, who were based in North View, Staple Hill.

Pete said: “My dad was a bricklayer and told me to get a job indoors.

“You started off as an apprentice benchman, shining on the polishing machine, and stayed on that job until you could do it with your eyes shut, then you went up to repairing. The top of the range was if you could work the outsole stitcher.”

After Lennards closed their repair department, Peter returned to Devon & Exeter Shoe Repairs and worked in Bedminster before moving to a branch in Fishponds, in the building now occupied by the Olive Tree restaurant.

From there he was offered a pay rise to take on the Staple Hill shop, which had become an Express branch, and spent the rest of his career there.

Over the years Pete has turned his hand to “all sorts of bits and pieces”, including locks, saddlery and zips.

He said the key to continuing in the trade was building up customer loyalty, and said the business had many long-term customers over the years.

Pete joked: “The customers will miss me more than I miss them!”

He said the biggest change in the trade was in footwear, which was now seen as more disposable and was also trickier to repair, due to the amount of plastics involved.

Pete said: “Years ago, people would spend £10 to repair shoes which had cost them £20. Now people will buy a pair of trainers for £125 but they won’t pay £25 to have them repaired.

“It’s a bit like TVs and washing machines, they’re made so cheaply that if your telly goes wonky, it’s probably cheaper to buy one that’s better than the one you’ve got.”