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Saved From the Brink

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Scuffed, worn-out, sorry-looking pair of shoes saved after 4,289-mile journey.

“From being a bairn, I was always taught one should own at least one pair of decent shoes,” said Angelo Rossi, 80, a native of Scotland and visiting family in Hernando County. “Throughout my childhood, money was tight,” he said. “But my Italian parents always went home every summer to Cerasuolo, located in between Rome and Naples, and that’s when they would buy me and each of my brothers, Antonio and Giovanni, a pair of handmade Italian leather shoes.”

Angelo’s father was a barber in Glasgow and his mother and uncle owned an ice cream parlor and a fish and chip shop in Kirkintilloch. “They weren’t rich, so they wanted those shoes to last as long as possible,” said Angelo. “Those handmade shoes were considered an investment that should last as long as possible.”

The first thing Angelo’s father would do was to nail a crescent-shaped metal piece (called segs in Scotland) to the heel and toe of the shoes to save them from wearing down unevenly. When it looked as if the soles were wearing thin, he would stick on those thin leather soles you could buy in Woolworths all those years ago. “Another memory I have is kids at my school having to put a piece of cardboard inside the shoe,” he said, “but that didn’t work if it was raining…and it was always raining in Scotland,” he laughed.

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Angelo visits Florida every year — except for the Covid years — and early in 2020, he discovered Larry’s, the shoe repair shop in Brooksville. “My sister-in-law had told me about Larry’s shop during a phone call where I was complaining I couldn’t find a decent cobbler anymore,” Angelo recalled. “She told me to bring my battered shoes along with me on my next trip and we would see if they could be repaired.”

One week later, Angelo picked up his repaired shoes and was thrilled with the results. “New leather soles and heels and all the dryness, cracking, and fading had gone,” he said. “They looked brand new — soft and supple, polished and gleaming. I was amazed at Larry’s workmanship,” he added.

Fast forward to September 2023 and the very same pair of shoes have been brought back to Florida for life-saving surgery.
Angelo is not known for polishing and shining his shoes. And now there was a hole in the uppers. Usually, while the soles and heels of leather shoes can be replaced any number of times when the upper part is damaged, it’s time to buy a new pair.
“I’ve worn the heck out of these shoes and I’m ashamed I haven’t taken better care of them,” he said. “But they’re so comfortable and I’m hoping Larry can rescue them.”

“If King Charles III can get his shoes patched, referring to Britain’s new monarch’s penchant for getting his favorite shoes patched up,” said Angelo, “then so can I.”

Larry Whitman and his wife Glenda laughed out loud when Angelo returned to the shop with his pair of shabby shoes but said, “We’ll see what we can do as they have come from so far away.”

Larry’s Shoe Repair is believed to be the last remaining shoemaker performing on-premises leather repairs in Hernando County. It’s a long-time family-run business and Larry, his wife, daughter and son all help out in the shop. Larry says he welcomes fixing the soles and heels of quality-made leather shoes as his wife, Glenda, hands over Angelo’s repaired shoes. “Old-style shoemakers like me are saddened by the sheer volume of shoes imported from Asia that are all vinyl and rubber held together by adhesives instead of stitches, and soles made of materials that just shred,” said Larry. “China alone manufactured 12.6 BILLION pairs of shoes last year and those are mostly sneakers that can’t be repaired,” he said.

“Buying a pair of quality leather shoes isn’t cheap and it takes time to break them in,” he says. “But people like Angelo love their comfortable old shoes. They don’t want to throw them away.”

Angelo beamed at his restored pair of beloved shoes. “I’m disappointed in myself that I neglected them and that it took so long before I could come back to Larry’s to get them repaired,” he said. “But Covid played a part in that.”

Larry’s Shoe Repair offers quality craftsmanship, repairing shoes, boots and other leather goods. You can visit Larry’s Shoe Repair at 704 W Jefferson St., Brooksville. Hours are Monday-Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday: 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Phone: (352) 796-0747.

Maintenance of Leather Shoes
Cleaning them regularly is vital to prolong the life of your shoes, sandals, boots, or other types of quality leather footwear.
Use a protectant such as a waterproof spray or wax to help your shoes repel the effects of water and dirt that can quickly ruin footwear. These products create a barrier on the material to block the harsh effects of water damage and are the best ways to prevent premature wear and tear.
Nourish the soles and uppers with leather conditioner often.
Polish and shine your shoes regularly to keep them looking their best.
Source: Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America (FDRA)

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