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Shoe academy in D.C. aims to pass lost art on to the next generation

John 'Peter Bug' Matthews is a living icon in D.C.
Posted at 12:28 PM, Jul 27, 2021

WASHINGTON, D.C. — You might think you know the nation's capital, but you don’t know it like Peter Bug does.

John “Peter Bug” Matthews was born and raised in Southeast D.C. It’s been home to his shoe repair store for 44 years.

“This used to be a shooting gallery. People shot dope, sold dope,” said Matthews.

Now, that old dope house is his shoe shop.

Since then, it’s been 44 years of sanding, nailing, and sewing soles back together, all by hand.

“This a Gucci,” said Matthews. “We not just fixing Payless shoes, we fixing shoes with money.”

His shop is a little messy, but it works for Matthews.

The shop doubles as a cobbler academy for young men and women who might want to learn the trade. There are no students when we visited, but they were certainly people coming by.

“I grew up around here. I’m from this neighborhood. I was just at prison, federal prison for eight years,” said Casino Cash, a young man who just returned from prison.

“Federal prison for eight years? Well I’m glad you home brother,” said Matthews.

“Mr. Peter Bug was an inspiration to us growing up as youth. You know with the football program, the basketball court, the shoe shining, the wisdom, some of the knowledge he shared. He might not remember but it drove me back to this place right here,” said Cash.

“Monday, Tuesday, I’ll try and get you some more information, because they got a lot of other money that you can apply for since you coming home. They got money for you to get health insurance, carfare, all that stuff,” said Matthews.

Matthews is a respected member of the community for a reason. He talks to everyone who walks by and helps anyone he can. But it all starts with the shoes.

“These Guccis probably $200-$300 shoes and they can come to me and get a new sole and heel for $100,” said Matthews.

While shoe repair might not be the most popular way for Americans to keep shoes on their feet, there is certainly enough business for Matthews to stay relevant and make a living.

It's enough of a living for Matthews to keep doing the work in his community to make it a better place.