Remembering Uncle Allan And His Folk-Filled Sandal Shop

Melissa Block remembers her Uncle Allan. He died this week at the age of 90. Allan Block was a self-taught leather worker and old-time fiddle player who owned a small sandal shop in Greenwich Village during the heyday of the folk music scene in the 1950s and 60s. Folk musicians such as Joan Baez and Bob Dylan were known to stop by. Business would stop, as Allan and other musicians would have a free-wheeling folk music jam. As the late folksinger Dave Van Ronk once told a writer: "God help you, if you wanted to buy a pair of sandals."

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A remembrance now, and this time it's a personal one. Allan Block, my uncle, died this week at the age of 90. Now, I mention this because I'll bet there are people listening who will hear that name, and they'll remember vividly the Allan Block Sandal Shop on West Fourth Street in Greenwich Village. They'll remember - as I do - the earthy, rich smell of leather embedded in that shop. And they'll remember the music that filled the space as the New York folk scene bubbled into its heyday in the 1950s and the '60s.


BLOCK: Allan was an old-time fiddle player, and a self-taught craftsman as a leather worker. His sandal shop doubled as a magnet for folk musicians in the city. Joan Baez came by and bought sandals for her family. Dylan hung around on the fringes before he was Dylan. The way I've heard it, banjos and guitars and mandolins would appear; and music would spill out onto the street, with Allan fiddling away in the middle. As late folk singer Dave Van Ronk once told a writer: God help you if you wanted to buy a pair of sandals.


BLOCK: And if you were lucky enough to have bought a pair of Allan Block's handmade sandals, chances are you still have them. They're pretty much indestructible and custom-made. He'd have you stand on two pieces of cardboard, trace the outline of your feet with a pen - it tickled. You'd choose from a couple of dozen simple, original designs and eventually, you'd get your sandals. With his spidery signature inked on the sole, your feet would be happy.


BLOCK: Allan left New York City in the late '60s, and moved to a farmhouse in New Hampshire. He kept on fiddling at square dances and folk festivals and crafts fairs across New England; a slender man in a flannel shirt and worn corduroy pants, his legs stomping out the beat.


BLOCK: He'd hold his fiddle low so he could sing and play at the same time; his right hand balanced high up on the bow, elbow flying. For years, in the wintertime, Allan could be found out busking on the streets of St. Augustine, Fla., up to the time he was 80. He was a kid from Oshkosh, Wis., ho somehow found his roots in the folk songs and mountain music of Appalachia.

Allan Block is survived by his brother, Dan - my father; by his three children: Mona, Rory and Paul; and of course, by his sandals and his music.


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