A Stitch Back In Time

St. Paul Family Keeps Alive The Lost Art Of Repalming Hockey Gloves
By: 
Jessi Pierce

Nestled in the heart of St. Paul, Minn., just outside of the hustle and bustle of downtown, you’ll find a quaint shop along Grand Avenue that has become as important a stop for hockey players as the Xcel Energy Center.

George’s Shoe and Skate Repair has been a part of the capital city’s history since establishing a leather shoe repair shop in the 1950s. It was in 1977 that the family-owned business broadened its expertise, going from leather boots and shoes to repairing leather-made hockey equipment.

Beginning with the Minnesota North Stars and Minnesota Fighting Saints, owner Jerry George has been serving hockey players in the Twin Cities with his skills with a needle and thread. In the winter of 1980 he received a call from St. Paul native Herb Brooks, who recruited George to repair the Olympic gold medal-winning team’s equipment. And thus a successful hockey repair business was born.

“My dad had a vision to get into sports, so that’s what we did,” says Dan George, who now runs the store along with his brother, Brian, after their father retired four years ago. “We all played [hockey] growing up so it was a natural fit for us.”

Dan George, pictured, and his brother, Brian, have continued the legacy their father created in the Twin Cities more than 65  years ago.Dan George, pictured, and his brother, Brian, have continued the legacy their father created in the Twin Cities more than 65 years ago.

In its 38 years of sports business, George’s Shoe and Skate Repair still emits a robust sense of old-time hockey. Vintage photos of players and teams line the wall, inscribed with “Many Thanks” and “George’s is the Best!” as they invite current visitors to step back into hockey history.

Despite the visible nostalgia both inside and out, the shop keeps current. George’s Shoe and Skate Repair prides itself on its ability to fix nearly any piece of equipment and restore it to virtually new. But one of its many specialties is a repair trade that gets lost in the shuffle of the present day: glove repalming.

Since their introduction to the game in the 1880s, hockey gloves have gone through minimal changes in comparison to other pieces of equipment. Once made from horsehide leather with longer cuffs and leather palms, today’s gloves are shorter on the wrist to offer more mobility and are palmed with a lighter and softer material.

“So much has changed in the game of hockey over the years,” Dan George says. “Equipment continues to evolve from head to toe to keep up with those changes on the ice. We do the same.

“Back in the day, the palm was made of leather. Now there are different colors, the Nash palm, the Clarino palm and Dura Soft, but they are pretty much all the same material. Some are single layer options, others are double or reinforced, and it all depends on the player.”

A player’s top hand – often the dominant hand – is typically the first palm to wear out because of constant twisting and grinding along the butt of the stick. That’s when players know it’s time to take a trip to George’s.

When gloves are brought in through the glass door of the shop, Dan begins by examining the glove’s palms and gussets (the area between each finger). He searches for any additional wear and tear between the fingers, assessing how high he will have to attach the palm material. Taking a seat on a stool in the back shop, he begins the removal process. With the precision of a surgeon, he uses a rip knife to remove the palm’s stitching.

“My dad had a different technique when it came to this,” Dan smiles as he works around each gusset. “But it’s all about taking your time and cleanly removing each stitch.”

Next, he reaches up to his drawer filled with overly large palms. He selects the type of material to replace the palm, with options of Dura Soft, digital and leather. For today’s glove he is selects leather to match its shell, but ultimately the decision is made based on the player’s personal liking.

George’s Shoe and Skate Repair does repairs on equipment from around the world. Visit hockeyrepair.com to learn more about their services.George’s Shoe and Skate Repair does repairs on equipment from around the world. Visit hockeyrepair.com to learn more about their services.

“I’d say nine out of 10 pairs of gloves are doing the Dura Soft material,” Dan explains. “I’ll do maybe 20 or 30 pairs a year in the leather. It’s for the older guys, it’s what they grew up with and that’s what they want, so we always keep it an option.”

George applies contact cement to the glove’s shell and the new palm to temporarily hold the patchwork in place until stitching.

With the aid of a family trick, based on years of experience, he threads a special sewing machine to stitch the palm into place. Once complete, the excess material is trimmed from around the glove. A quick conditioning coat to make the palms shine and the gloves are ready to grab a stick and hit the ice.

Placing the gloves on the wooden counter, George beams at his work. He and his employees take pride in each piece of equipment repaired. It’s a part of the passion for the craft that has outlasted time. That passion and pride is stitched into every piece of equipment at George’s. It’s a part of the history of the store and the trade that the entire family grew to know and love.

“It really is a lost trade, but we love it,” he says. “We loved coming down to the shop [as kids]. Dad introduced it just like any sports. If you liked it, great, if not, no big deal. But we all love working with our hands and being craftsmen, so there was no other career I was interested in. I always knew I was going to be here, and I think people appreciate that we are here.

“If you do a good job, love what you do and keep people smiling, they keep coming back.”

 


 

When Should I Get My Gloves Repalmed?

You’ve had your favorite pair of hockey gloves for the past five years. They have character and a lot of memories in them. But they also have holes. When is it time to see the glove repairman?

According to Dan George, co-owner of George’s Shoe and Skate Repair, when making the decision to repalm, it boils down to personal preference.

“Some guys want holes all over their palms, some guys want to wear them for a week and get them repalmed, and some guys are superstitious and don’t want anything touched,” George says. “It runs the spectrum; we see it all.”

While there’s no specific time or age for repalming, here are three things to ask yourself when contemplating a new palm for your mitts:

1.    How badly worn are the palms? Are they unwearable?
2.    Is it hindering or hurting my play or the way I hold my stick?
3.    Am I going to be getting a new pair of gloves in the near future?

Before


After

Once you’ve answered those questions, make the best decision based on what’s best for you and your gloves.

Jessi Pierce is an editor with Touchpoint Media in Minneapolis.
Issue: 
2015-11

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