Fewer shoe repair shops mean more profits for those in the business.
By TIM YOVICH
VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF
While many businesses in the Mahoning and Shenango Valleys are finding it difficult to make a buck, Ed Palestro, John Torquati, Carmen Amabile and Carmen Amadio are doing just fine.
“I can’t even keep up with this work,” says Palestro, owner of Frank’s Shoe Repair on North Main Street in Hubbard.
“We are very busy,” noted Amabile, co-owner with Tony Frasso of A&F Shoe Service on Mercer Street in New Castle, Pa.v
They, along with Torquati, who owns John’s Boot & Shoe Repair on Youngstown’s Mahoning Avenue, say it isn’t the sluggish economy that makes business so good.
Rather, shoe repairing is a dying business with fewer shops staying open.
Seventy-eight-year-old Palestro pointed out there were once 16 shops in downtown Youngstown. Now, there aren’t any.
New Castle and nearby Mahoningtown had 34 shops in 1940, 87-year-old Amabile recalled. That number has dwindled to two.
George Prelac, 80, owner of George’s Shoe Repair in New Castle, said he could count 60 in Trumbull County at one time. The county has four shops now.
“It’s dying out. There’s nobody getting into it,” Palestro said, noting his 15-year-old grandson has shown an interest and he hopes to teach him.
He noted there are no schools where the trade is taught. The only way to learn is on-the-job training.
Palestro, like many in the business, learned the trade from his father, Frank Palestro. The business still carries his father’s name — Frank’s. He was an actual shoemaker, learning in Italy.
Torquati, at 48, is relatively young for the business. He says work is steady and he keeps busy.
“You open the door and you hope for the best,” he said.
To make a living, Torquati said a shoe repairman has to become diversified, such as fixing leather coats and women’s purses.
Torquati, a third-generation shoeman, said he repairs “anything you can put in a sewing machine.”
Because of the higher costs of utilities and supplies, Torquati works 10 to 12 hours a day, sometimes seven days a week.
Women are the largest part of his business. He repairs and cuts down heels and cleans and polishes shoes.
Amabile in New Castle taught the business to Frasso, who ended up becoming his partner. Frasso is the youngest of the two at 74.
Amabile said he and his partner have given some thought to opening a shoe repair school. It takes about a year to learn the trade.
Because of the decline in shops, A&F attracts business from Butler and Ellwood City, Pa. and New York state.
“It’s paying good now,” Amabile said of the work he’s being doing since being discharged from the Army in 1951.
Amabile doesn’t know how long he’ll continue working, but one of the problems in retiring is finding a buyer for his shop.
Carmen Amadio is a 49-year-old third generation shoe repairman and owns Tisone’s Boot & Shoe Repair on U.S. Route 224 in Boardman with his sister, Rosemarie Vimmerstedt. His grandfather started the business in 1930 at Oak Street and Myrtle Avenue in Youngstown, moving to Boardman in 1948.
Amadio disagrees with the others that business has increased because of fewer shops. He points out that it doesn’t occur to would-be customers to get repair work done unless they see a repair business.
He called attention to former Youngstown-area residents who live in Columbus or Cincinnati . They bring their shoes to him when they visit the area because they can’t find a shop where they live, or because it’s on the other side of the city.
Amadio said he believes that there should be more visibility in the shoe repair industry.
Amadio doesn’t just do shoe repairs. Being a board certified pedorthist, he fills orthopedic prescriptions such as custom made orthotics and insoles.
Amadio explained that business has been good, but cautioned that it’s seasonal with fall being the busiest time of the year. It’s the time when customers are getting their shoes and leather coats repaired for the winter.
Prelac said he believes he could have made a better living had he not been in the smaller community of Newton Falls.
He said that people buy cheap shoes and toss them rather than getting them repaired. Also, the 1960s hurt business when tennis shoes became vogue.
Prelac said much of his business is repairing zippers, from handbags to lawnmower bags.
“I just do it as something to do,” Prelac said, noting he works four days a week and a half day Saturday.
He was able to teach his two sons how to repair shoes, but they didn’t want to get into the business.
“We’re in a dying business, said Prelac, who opened his shop Jan. 1, 1947. He’ll continue to work as long as his health allows him, although his family has wanted him to quit since he has had heart surgery.