This year has been hard for Christos Soillis, whose shoe shop in Harvard square has seen most of its business dry up amid the pandemic.

But for the 85-year-old Soillis, the shoe shop has also been a lifeline.

Soillis estimates that he has lost 95% of his business since the coronavirus pandemic began in March. Still, he shows up every day, checks his inventory and waits for customers. To pass the time, he sits behind the counter in the front of the store and reads to practice his English. He’s kept company by family photos, the shop’s antique sewing machine and the organized clutter of leather pieces needed for repairs.

“Long story short, after I lost my wife I was really in a deep depression,” said Soillis, whose wife died 15 years ago. “And two, three times I was ready to [commit] suicide, so my kids pushed me to open the business [during the pandemic].”

Soillis grew up homeless in Greece. Until he met his American-born wife in Greece, he never expected to immigrate to the United States. He arrived in the 1960s. At first, Soillis and his wife lived in an attic without air conditioning. His father-in-law, mother-in-law and brother-in-law all lived in the same house.

“ It was bad for everybody, but [not] for me,” Soillis said. “Because my dream was, how can I do what my father told me? ‘The United States if you a good person and you work hard and you’re not a thief, you're honest, you [have] respect, you can make your life better here.’”

That background made Soillis determined to stay in business. Even before the pandemic, shoe repair shops were disappearing. Today, people often choose to replace old shoes, not repair them. In Harvard Square, there used to be several shoe shops. Now, Felix Shoe Repair is the last one that remains.

“It's gonna’ be a different life [for my kids],” said Soillis. “Different generations, different education. Yes, we have to live [with] what we have. That's the bottom line. The shop gave me life. That's all I can say. This shop. Harvard Square. The businesspeople. The people that trust me. I'm blessed. That's all I can say.”

Denise Jillson, executive director of the Harvard Square Business Association, has known Soillis for 15 years and explained that he pays a lower rent since he is a long-time member of the business community.

“The property owner knows the value that Christos brings to the square,” Jillson said, “[Soillis is] a very proud and dignified gentleman who wants to take care of himself, because he's always done that.”

Soillis explained how he and his wife never went out to dinner. He doesn't like to spend money at restaurants. Instead, his daughter and son bring him meals every week. It’s a simple life, but Soillis said working at the shoe shop during the week and visiting his family on weekends has kept him going.

“Ah, it doesn't matter how rich, how poor you grew up in countries like Greece, especially the old days,” he said. “It was a tough life. I find if I die tomorrow morning, I don't care. Because my trees [my children] grow up.”

Jillson admires the work ethic of Christos and the way he embodies the American story.

“They work hard, save money, buy a business, and then work at that business every single day, to provide for himself and his family, and put his kids through college,” she said. “That's the story that needs to be told over and over again, because that is the story of America.”