WATERVILLE — After 37 years as a cobbler, Fred Murphy is hanging up his apron.

The owner of Babe’s Shoe Repair at 40 Elm St. planned to close up his shop at the end of the day Friday and retire to his blueberry farm in China.

Murphy, 64, started working as a cobbler in his 20s and bought a leather shop in 1978 on Main Street in Waterville. He renamed the shop Harmony Leather Works and kept it about 10 years before Babe’s was posted for sale on Elm Street. He bought it and has been there ever since.

As Murphy looked around at what was left in his shop on Friday — a pile of shoes here and a tangle of belts there — he said he will miss the place.

“Definitely,” he said. “It’ll be rough.”

For many years he has repaired shoes, boots and saddles, replaced zippers on leather jackets, fixed hats and bags and pouches and sewn holes, rips and tears on all sorts of garments.

Over those years, first-time customers easily became loyal ones, returning again and again.

“I’ve been coming here three years,” Mark Mahoney, of Waterville, said as he entered the shop Friday.

Mahoney, a wrestler, picked up a pair of boots and leather motorcycle chaps. He said he will miss Murphy’s craftsmanship as well as his friendly nature. He said he has been a customer ever since he brought in a pair of wrestling boots that needed repair. Murphy did a great job, he said.

“I’ve referred other wrestlers here numerous times,” Mahoney said.

Murphy and his wife, Jacque, were sorting through piles of leather bags and footwear Friday, tossing some items into the trash and organizing others in a corner to be taken to their home in China, where they own U-Pick Blueberry Farm and also grow garlic. There, he will plant a garden, carve items such as belt buckles out of moose and deer antlers — a hobby he loves — and spend time with his children.

Jacque said that while it is time for her husband to retire, Friday was a sad day for him.

“I think he’ll be lonely when the men don’t come here and talk politics and the customers don’t come and talk blueberries,” she said. “He’s always enjoyed being a cobbler and he does hope that, maybe in the spring, he can open a little repair shop in our cellar.”

The Murphys had hoped some young person would buy the cobbler business, but that was not to be, according to Jacque, who was dredging up old suitcases, bags and other items, holding them up and asking her husband if they were to be kept or tossed out.

“These are things people left,” she said. “When you get to the bottom of a pile, that means it’s been here a long time.”

An old Singer sewing machine stood near the entryway to the shop, where a sign said Friday was the shop’s last day. Don Day, owner of D n L Restoration upholstery shop next door, stepped into Babe’s and said he will miss the Murphys, who are his friends.

“Fred’s a dear guy. He really is,” Day said. “He has a legacy, and you can’t just let him sink into the abyss of the night and be gone. I’ve helped him out and he’s helped me out and I’ve done some jobs with him. Fred is sad to leave here — I know he is — and his wife is his best friend and supporter. Those two are pretty awesome.”

Kimberly N. Lindlof, president and chief executive officer of the Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce in Waterville, also lamented the loss of Babe’s and the Murphys.

“We’re always sad to see a business in the region close, especially one with such a valuable service as a cobbler,” Lindlof said Friday afternoon. “We wish Fred and his wife the best of luck with their retirement, but we sure are going to miss their services.”

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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