ROGERS PARK — When John Geroulis was 10 years old, he began shining shoes alongside his father, Peter, at the family shoe repair shop on Morse Avenue.
Many decades have gone by since then, yet the 71-year-old shoe repairman continues to carry on his father's trade.
"I think I'll retire when I leave this world," he said. "Because I enjoy what I'm doing."
But family health problems and the recession has threatened to end the legacy of Cobbler's shoe repair.
A year and a half ago, his wife of two years fell ill with pneumonia and died. And as foot traffic decreased during the Morse Avenue and Morse "L" station renovations, he said, so did business.
"My customers couldn't get here," he said as he sat in a chair crammed between the store's counter and racks of boots, penny loafers and purses.
The store owes more than $40,000 in back rent, according to a letter from his landlord's lawyers.
Geroulis said the landlord and owner of the next door Morse Market, Peter Kostopoulos, has allowed him to pay down the debt little by little, but if he's forced to leave, he won't relocate.
"I've moved too much already," he said.
His father opened the shoe shine and repair shop in 1921 under the newly elevated "L" tracks on Morse Avenue after working for six years as a shoe shiner at Marshall Field's downtown.
"There's a real art to shining shoes," he said. "My dad always approached his work as an artist, and I do too."
"It made me feel good to make him happy," he said.
Geroulis said that he went into the Army during Vietnam, but after three months was discharged because his father got sick and his mother and sister needed help.
"My mom said we were going to have to sell the store," he said. "I told her I'd take over the business."
His father recovered and lived for another 15 years before dying in 1979 at the age of 83. Geroulis then bought the old Morse Theatre building — where the Mayne Stage is now — and moved the business there.
In 2004, he sold the building and moved to Cobbler's current location at 1424 W. Morse Ave, where he still serves neighborhood customers.
On a Thursday afternoon, a man came in to buy a tube of shoe cement to repair his dress shoes. It cost $8, Geroulis informed him.
"Holy socks!" the customer replied. "That's what I paid for the shoes in the thrift store."
And the customer walked out.
"You look at a pair of shoes and you know how that customer takes care of their shoes," he said, "and that tells you a lot of things. You get to know people."
Geroulis said he wanted to work as long as his dad did repairing shoes on Morse Avenue.
"Making the old look new again is a challenge," he said. "I've always enjoyed doing that."