ONY LAMIA ENJOYS GOOD company.
He's got a pair of emus, a 13-year-old Rottweiler named Sheba, wolves he calls Gabby and Katrina and, by the way, he still repairs shoes for his good buddy Wayne Newton.
Judging from his rustic repair shop, a farm-and-tackle store on state Route 165 in rural Columbiana County, you'd never know this 50-year-old cobbler helped make lifestyles of the rich and famous a bit more footloose.
Lamia, a fourth-generation cobbler whose great-grandfather saved soles in Sicily, has repaired shoes for the likes of Don Rickles, Ann-Margret, Andre the Giant, Suzanne Somers and Dom DeLuise while living in Beverly Hills and Las Vegas before moving to eastern Ohio in 1990.
"I like working with my hands, crafting and making things beautiful," said Lamia. "I've been doing this since I was 8 years old. My dad, my grandfather, all of the men in our family have been doing this.
"It's a low-profit trade. You don't get no pension. You just work."
'I'm a private person'
Lamia's shop, where he repairs shoes, coats, zippers and just about everything leather, is old-school. He converted what he called "an old beat-up garage," into his private studio. It's wooden, dusty floors cradle several vintage sewing machines, two large sanders, scores of wooden shoe stretchers, tools, kittens, a large Confederate flag and a framed photo of the singing cowboy, Gene Autry.
"I live right here and everything," said Lamia, a Beaver Falls, Pa., native who prides himself in making prize barbecue ribs and homemade grits, raises chickens and butchers his own meat. "Farmers, bikers, all different types of people from around here bring me their shoes. I'm like Johnny Carson. He was real laid-back and private. I'm a private person. I don't go to bars. I don't go to parties."
But working as a self-employed cobbler in the cradle of the entertainment industry for a decade gave him plenty of opportunities. Instead, he simply enjoyed meeting the stars and working for them.
He converted Florsheim dress boots into golf shoes for comedian Jerry Lewis and played blackjack with Barbara Eden, but little could compare to watching 7-foot-4, 500-pound wrestling icon Andre the Giant eat dinner.
"I used to go to buffets with him," Lamia said. "Could he eat? Oh my God. He ate 10 times more than me, and after he got done eating, he'd order a case a beer on top of that. He'd order 18 plates of this and 11 plates of dessert, then a case of beer. I didn't see where he put it. We'd go to the buffet once in a while. I used to put the fringes on his wrestling boots."
Lamia said the late legend wore size 16 shoes.
"He's got gigantic feet. They were like two oars paddling down the river," Lamia said.
Another favorite is DeLuise.
"When I was young, I was visiting my grandmother on Coney Island," Lamia said. "He [DeLuise] had his kids there and he paid for my ride to go on the roller coaster. After all these years, I was in Vegas and ran into Dom. I said, 'You remember that kid you took on the roller coaster? That was me.' He couldn't believe that. He's a good-hearted guy."
Darker side of fame
But Lamia wasn't fond of everyone.
"Telly Savalas, he was mean," he said. "He used to walk around with these two body guards. We were at this one place and me and my girlfriend [were] having apple pie with ice cream on it at 2 o'clock in the morning. She was like, 'Tony, there's Telly Savalas. Go get his autograph.' I said, 'No, he's a little funny sometimes.' Right after I said that, this lady walked over and said, 'Oh, Mr. Savalas, can I get your autograph?' He got ugly and said, 'I can't go nowhere without people bugging me for this and that.' I said, 'See what I told you?'"
As word of Lamia's talent with shoes spread, Shirley MacLaine, Red Foxx and Sigfried and Roy were added to his clientele. Did it bring fortune?
"No, but a lot of times I'd get free tickets to shows," he said.
Lamia said his favorite entertainer to work for was Ann-Margret. Why?
"Because she had the smallest feet," he laughed.
He even made his television debut in Ray Luca's "Crime Story," which broadcast in 1986.
"It's a Mafia show," he explained. "I was in the wedding scene. I didn't have anything to say, but they showed me. It was real neat."
Lamia's still waiting for a second role.
'You know what's best'
His cobbler expertise made one Vegas headliner a permanent customer.
"Wayne Newton sends his stuff UPS from Brandon, Mo.," Lamia said. "Every time I do something for him, he sends a note saying, 'You know what's best.' I just look at it and make it perfect. Mostly, he sends me cowboy boots -- ostrich skin and lizard skin. He loves boots."
After moving back-and-forth between Las Vegas and Beverly Hills, Lamia grew tired of the crowds and the traffic. He wanted to come home.
& quot;After a while, a lot of New Yorkers moved there and they tore things down and built sky-rise hotels," he said. "Everything just went crazy. If you want to go to a bookstore like three blocks away, it takes like 45 minutes. It's ridiculous. The cost of living was cheap when I was in Vegas, but now everything's sky-high. A workshop with a home and a pool and all that was like $300 something a month. Now, that same place is $2,100 a month.
Traffic-free peace-and-quiet came in the form of the farmland of Union, where Lamia enjoys raising chickens, horses, emus and feeding stray animals.
'It has to be perfect'
When he's not fishing, cooking or working on his farm, he can more than likely be found inside his shoe shop.
"Sometimes I'm a little slow, but it has to be perfect," he said. "I'll make them look like they came out of a Macy's Department Store when I'm done. I really take pride in what the shoes look like. If I don't like it the customers will never like it. If I like it, there's a 100 percent chance they are going to like it because I don't miss nothing."
Bill Shacklack, who works as Lamia's apprentice, watches with amazement.
"He can make it better than when you bought them in the store," he said. "He makes the old stuff look brand new."
Obviously, Lamia realizes he'll never make millions in the shoe repair industry.
"Good shoes will cost about $30 to repair," Lamia said. "I've got 20-something dollars invested in these," he said, pointing to a pair he is working on, "and it will take me about four hours to work on them, so you've got to figure that's about $3.95 an hour.
But he wouldn't do anything else.
"I'll do this 'til I drop dead. They found my grandfather dead at his work bench.
"I love what I do. I couldn't work on an assembly line anywhere. That would drive me nuts.
"If I pay my bills and put food in my belly, I'm happy."