The story is about the Gessler Brothers, German shoemakers who were known for their shoe-manship. They delivered boots on demand. Their quaint shop had a small display of their finest works. It was titled the after their family name.
The story is written in first person narrative style and the narrator seems to be a loyal customer and a fan of Mr. Gessler’s work and craftsmanship.
The story begins with an encounter with Mr. Gessler. The narrator acknowledges the fact that the Gessler shoes are so durable that they can last for many a year which makes visit to the shop very rare.
However, he orders a pair of Russian-leather boots. The veteran shoemaker brings a splendid pair of golden shoes made of immaculate Russian leather. The narrator falls in love at the first sight of those boots and gives his nod to the shoemaker. Mr. Gessler asks him to return after a spell of two weeks.
The story moves forward to another visit by the narrator to the same shop. However, this time he has a complaint to make. Unlike other footwear made by Mr. Gessler, the narrator complains about his pair as they creak and are uncomfortable.
Mr. Gessler treats his work as both art and religion. He employs his creative skills to produce quality footwear of top notch leather and religiously adheres to his lofty standards. Listening to rare complaints, he does not get ruffled or flustered and calmly ask the narrator to bring the shoes for an examination. In case they can be fixed he would do it otherwise the narrator would be completely reimbursed.
We move to another meeting between the two when the narrator wants a brand new pair. He comes wearing in different shoes from some big label and franchise. Mr. Gessler uses his vast experience and expertise and points at the stop where the shoes cause discomfort and pain to the narrator. For the first time, Mr. Gessler shows condemnation and contempt for something, the profiteering and unscrupulous big shoe firms which disregard customer satisfaction and focus on revenues and quantity of production.
They spend exorbitant and insane amounts of money on lucrative endorsements and try to ensnare customers through collusive pricing and tricks. The narrator expounds his urgent and unavoidable need and circumstances for buying such shoes. This evidenced how much the narrator admired and appreciated Mr. Gessler’s work.
The next visit happens after a two year gap. When the narrator reaches the shop he gets a gut wrenching news. The elder Gessler brother had died and in his place, the shop was run by his younger sibling. Eventually, he settles himself down and ends up ordering multiple pairs of shoes. This time the order takes more time to finish but the quality is better than what the narrator expected,
Another year goes away before the narrator returns again to the shop. The surviving Mr. Gessler is now in his seventies and has hard time recollecting his old customers. The narrator ends up ordering more shoes than ever. Consequently, the wait is longer but to his surprise the quality is even more impressive than before.
A week passes by and the narrator happens to be in the same locality as the shoe shop. Therefore, he decides to extend his regards and praise to Mr. Gessler for his excellent work. However, the shop does not have the Gessler Brothers’ name plate anymore. Perturbed and shocked, he enters the shop to find a new face. He asks the Englishman about Mr. Gessler’s whereabouts only to learn that the younger Gessler also expired some days back. A deep sense of sadness and moroseness infiltrates his thoughts.
The Englishman tells him that Mr. Gessler starved to death as he could not separate himself from his work. Married to his she-making, he became oblivious to everything else. He spends all his earnings on buying new leather and maintenance of the shop.
This, however, ended up accelerating his heath and eventual demise.
In the end, as a fitting tribute, both men acknowledge and laud the quality of work, unmatched skill and relentless pursuit of excellence exhibited by both the Gessler siblings. Their shoes cemented their legacy ensuring their work outlived their own life spans.
The story highlights the virtues of hard work, honesty, resolution, compassion, humility and commitment.
The theme of loss and death is also woven into the story with both Mr. Gessler and his brother dying in the story. However, the ideal of honest work’s pay and dedication to quality work is celebrated, both in times of scarcity and plenty.