Mario Donald Hodge, CPed, says he grew up mending shoes, not catching
frogs like other kids in his native hometown in southern Illinois.
Hodge, the owner of Parkway Shoes in Mount Vernon, Ill. swears he is not
sorry he missed the chance to hunt amphibians in local ponds.
Hodge’s stepfather, Richard Martin, who founded Parkway Shoes in
1971, died in 2006.
“He is the man who made this business, not me,” Hodge said.
“I give all the credit in the world to him.”
|Times have changed but Hodge
still works the old-fashioned way and finds that customers are surprised he
spends the extra time to measure their feet.
|Images: Craig B, O&P Business
Hodge hopes his shoe repair-pedorthics facility will become a
third-generation family firm someday. His son, Silvio Hodge, now 11 years old,
has “apprenticed” to his dad at the shop.
“He’s come into the shop after school and is learning from me
like I learned from my father,” Hodge said. “When I was a boy,
customers naturally went to my dad. But as I got into my teen years, people
started trusting me, too. They started thinking, ‘The kid’s not too
bad.’ I hope that’s what will happen with Silvio.”
Martin taught his stepson orthopedic shoe work as well as general shoe
repair. Hodge is schooling his son in both crafts, too.
“But I’m not half the cobbler my dad was,” Hodge said.
Ultimately, he decided to sharpen his skills on the orthopedic side by
learning more about foot anatomy and how feet, orthopedic footwear and inserts
work together. He decided to earn certification as a pedorthist.
“I went to school at the Robert M. Palmer [MD] Institute [of
Biomechanics] in Elwood, Ind.,” Hodge explained. “I owe a great deal
to Joe and Pam Haig and their great staff for their support during the entire
process of accreditation.”
Joe Haig, CPed, is the facility’s vice president of operations and
co-founder of the Institute. His wife, Pam Haig, CPed, is executive vice
president and also a co-founder.
Hodge said his experience in shoe repair helped him with his training at
the Palmer Institute.
“I don’t think I could have made it without [the experience].
It saved me,” he said. “I hadn’t been in school in 20 years and
the terms for parts of the foot they were using – I thought to myself,
‘There’s no way I can do this.’ You have to learn a ton of stuff
about the foot. I had to work hard. But when we got to the hands-on part of the
coursework, it got a lot easier. I might not have known what the
‘phalanges’ were, but I knew what to do to make toes fit better in a
Hodge became a certified pedorthist in 2009.
|Hodge, who inherited the business
from his stepfather, is already teaching his son the skills to take over the
Like all pedorthists in Illinois, he is also licensed.
“Licensing is a great idea,” he said. “It keeps people
out of pedorthics who are maybe dishonest or don’t know what they are
doing. Licensing is good for the profession and the people who need our
Hodge’s enterprise in downtown Mount Vernon, population 16,300, is
a combination retail/shoe repair/pedorthics facility.
“We sell Western boots, not the flashy stuff, just good old
traditional boots, and Red Wing work boots. But I can build-up and modify just
about anything for anybody as long as it’s not a high heel pump,” he
Currently, he is expanding the business to incorporate more therapeutic
footwear and he is fabricating orthotics on doctor’s orders.
“The biggest thing we are doing is knocking out one wall of the
store and expanding into the empty store building next to us, which I bought.
We are going to make it handicap-accessible so that we can get Medicare
approved and my wife, Debbie, can take care of the paperwork. She already helps
out in the shop,” he said.
Hodge explained that shoe repair and modifications account for about 75%
of his overall business.
“When the economy gets bad, the shoe repair business gets
better,” he explained. “I do some prescription work for doctors, but
I plan to do more when we expand.”
|Though he initially received
training on the orthopedic side of the shoe business, Hodge became a certified
pedorthist in 2009.
Hodge says even in hard times, old-fashioned service continues to sell
shoes. Feet always get measured with Brannock devices before they go into shoes
“People who come in for the first time are surprised when we take
the time to fit them. But before they walk out the door I tell them if they
aren’t happy with what I’ve sold them or done for them to bring it
back immediately,” Hodge said.
Most of his repair and retail customers are men. Hodge does more than
fit them in boots. He educates them about footwear.
“A lot of guys will come in and spend $400 for a pair of nice
Western boots. Then they go to WalMart and buy their work boots. I say to them,
‘Boys, you’ve got that backwards. You’re going to spend most of
your time in work boots. That’s what you should be spending your money
on,’” he said.
He hopes to draw more female customers into the store when he
incorporates more comfort footwear options into the business expansion.
Hodge also wants to be better able to serve people with diabetes, many
of whom live in and around Mount Vernon, about 85 miles east of St. Louis.
“I understand the disease,” he said. “It’s in my
family. My uncle and my aunt lost legs to diabetes.”
He explained that more than a few of the diabetes patients he sees are
unaware that the illness can become limb-threatening.
“Some of them don’t have a clue,” Hodge said. “But I
really stress to them that they need to watch their feet.”
Meanwhile, some customers and passersby watch for new displays in the
store’s two front windows. Decor includes antiques ranging from old an
sewing machine and soda bottles to side saddles and artificial legs. He traded
a friend for the mechanical limbs, but let Hodge tell the story:
“One day, this guy came in and asked me, ‘Do you buy
legs?’ He said he had a pair of legs he wanted to sell.”
Hodge offered him $20. The man took the cash and left.
Hodge called a buddy at a local O&P facility to tell him about his
“My friend said, ‘A guy just called me and said he was missing
a pair of legs.’ I thought he was kidding.”
He was serious.
“So I took the legs and showed them to my friend and he said,
‘Oh, my gosh! Those are the missing legs.’ Apparently, this guy
didn’t pay his rent and the guy who sold me the legs was his landlord and
holding the legs hostage or something. I told my friend he could have the legs
for free, but he said they had an old pair of legs lying around they had no use
for and he gave them to me.”
He said some people have tried to buy some of the window displays. None
are for sale, including the prostheses. If he sold the artificial limbs, Hodge
said, he would not have a leg to stand on.