Custom Shoe Repair: A one man show

Angelo Card owner of Custom Shoe Repair polishes shoes on Wednesday, March 9, 2016.
Angelo Card owner of Custom Shoe Repair polishes shoes on Wednesday, March 9, 2016.

Angelo Card has it down to a science.

Whether it’s replacing a sole, shining a shoe or restitching, it’s in Card’s blood.

Custom Shoe Repair, located at 210 S. Allen St. in State College, has been in the family since 1973. When he was barely a teenager, Card learned the craft from his grandparents and parents.

“This was my grandparents’ place, and it was good growing up here,” he said. “My whole family was here, and they worked together. Grandparents, parents, everyone did something. It was a good life.”

Q: Did you enjoy growing up here?

A: Oh, yeah. If I didn’t, there is not a chance I would do it. It’s a lot of hours and a lot of work, but it’s good work. I started learning from my grandparents and parents as a kid. I started with small stuff — shining shoes — and by the time I was 15 years old I could run the shop. I already had a couple years under my belt.

Q: Why did you take it over?

A: I bought the place in 1995, because my grandfather wanted to retire. He was sick, and I came in to run the place while he was trying to sell it. There was another guy who wanted to buy it, but family is family. I went to the bank, got the loan and here we are.

Q: Were you nervous at all about taking over?

A: I had already worked here for my lifetime. The only difference was I got a bigger paycheck.

Q: How has shoe repair changed in the past few decades?

A: Molded shoes. A lot of folks think you can’t fix them. That’s a popular misconception. I do them daily.

Q: OK, what hasn’t changed?

A: Shoes just come and go in fashion. Each generation reinvents something that’s 20 years old. Wingtips are very popular among 20-somethings, but they’ve been around forever.

Q: What’s difficult about running the shop?

A: The jobs take more time to do. There’s more synthetic, man-made materials. With that there are more chemicals. You have more primers and more materials. That’s changed. When I was a kid you could do the work in half the time. Now there’s a lot more prep. But it’s all basically the same job. I don’t have help anymore. That’s different.

Q: Do you feel that it’s a dying art?

A: It’s dying in the fact that guys don’t want to get into it. As far as work, there’s more now than there’s ever been. There’s more population, which means more potential. The business, though, is a lot of chemicals, a lot of dust, dirt and long hours. Not too many people sign up for it. Everyone wants a desk job.

Q: When is the last time someone walked through your doors looking for a job?

A: Probably a decade.

Q: How many shoes do you work on per day?

A: A lot. I don’t keep track. The reality is you have to be productive. You do a shoe once, you do it right and you get on to the next one. You don’t want to marvel at one pair all day.

Q: When are you busiest?

A: Spring and fall. Industry-wise, seasons change, so fashions changes and clothing changes.

Q: Any good stories?

A: Not really. You do your job. A lot of people walk through the doors, but I’m not jazzed by a celebrity. People are just people. Some people get jazzed by celebrities or someone with high status in the community, but not here. I just enjoy doing the work I do, the rhythm of my craft. I’ve got everything now — the ordering, booking, the phone, waiting the counter. When it’s just me here doing my thing, I’m at peace.

Shawn Annarelli: 814-235-3928, @Shawn_Annarelli