In 1910, Senior Butler opened Butler’s Shoe Repair in downtown Durham. After three decades, he passed the business on to his son and mother, who operated it for another 40 years.
Sin Kil Yu—who worked four years as a certified pipe welder for a nuclear plant in Apex, North Carolina, after emigrating to the United States from South Korea—began apprenticing with the Butlers in 1983. Two years later, he took over the shop and has run it with his wife ever since.
Though the predominant culture in the United States directs people to discard objects when they break and buy new ones, Sin Yu’s work promotes a more thrifty, less wasteful ethic that infuses worn objects with new life.
I visited Sin Kil Yu on a spring afternoon to see what his work involves.