Across Michigan, a unique issue afflicts cobblers: Unclaimed shoes, crammed onto shelves and in boxes in stockrooms, that cannot be legally abandoned under state law.
That’s thanks to Michigan’s 1995 Uniform Unclaimed Property Act, which defines an item as “abandoned” only after three years. The rule is meant to cover financial assets like unclaimed life insurance payouts and abandoned properties, but also applies to forgotten heels and loafers.
Now, a highly specific bill currently in committee could help. House Bill 4994 would allow shoe repair shops to donate unclaimed inventory to charity after six months rather than three years. The one-sentence bill reads in full: “A person engaged in the business of shoe repair may donate unclaimed shoes left at the person’s place of business to a state licensed charitable organization if the shoes have been unclaimed for 6 months or more.”
Democratic State Rep. Angela Witwer, who introduced the bill, said it’s intended as a Band-Aid to the unclaimed property law, which is detrimental to small business owners like cobblers. A similar law exists exempting dry cleaners and tailors from the rule.
“Shoe cobblers just cannot and do not have the space,” Witwer said. “I feel for these people that can’t even do their everyday business the way that they need to because shoes have been left there.”
Witwer, who likes to repair her shoes rather than buy new ones, learned of the issue firsthand as a customer at local shops. At one store, P and S Shoe Repair in Lansing, a pair of Witwer’s shoes were temporarily misplaced in the shuffle of unclaimed shoes.
Susan Anderson, the 76-year-old co-owner of P and S Shoe Repair, said her shelves are filled up with unclaimed shoes. The oldest pair dates back to 2006.
“We’re stuck holding onto them,” she said. “We call them and tell them they’re ready, but nobody ever shows up for them.”
The store would call customers for years to pick up their shoes until the COVID-19 pandemic upended business and they fell out of the habit. No one ever came to get them anyway, Anderson said.
Each unclaimed pair also means unpaid work, since customers typically pay for repairs at pickup. P and S Shoe Repair started offering a 10% discount for customers who pay up front for repairs. But even some prepaid repairs still get left behind, Anderson said.
Robert Shelton, the president of Johnny’s Shoe Store and Repair in Flint, said unclaimed shoes were such a problem that he began charging up front after totaling $5,000 in losses about 10 years ago. Since then, there hasn’t been an issue.
“When our company first started business back in 1933, maybe people were more honest,” he said. “Back in those days, everyone came and got your shoes when you were supposed to. Nowadays, it’s a different situation.”
For stores that have stuck with payment on delivery, the bill could be a corrective to a storage-sucking problem. Witwer’s bill died out in its original incarnation last year, but has seen bipartisan support since its reintroduction this summer.
“It’s a very small, very specific bill, and I was not going to go through it again,” she said. “But it’s a small business help — a small small business help — and I’m big on helping the people that employ most of the state of Michigan.”
Anderson said she expects the bill to free up shelf space at P and S, clearing out rows of unwanted boots and flats so she can display newer repaired shoes for customers. But until it passes, three years’ worth of shoes will stay.
Despite the temptation to skirt the rules and just toss them, Anderson said there’s no real option other than holding onto the orders.
“It’s against the law, and I wasn’t about to get rid of anything that belonged to somebody else,” she said. “It’s their stuff.”