Gulfshore Artisans: Silvio Palomba
Meet the downtown Naples cobbler who has been repairing shoes and more for nearly 50 years.
Profession/title Cobbler/owner, Silvio’s Shoe Repair
Years in the trade: 47
Got his start: At his father-in-law’s shoe shop in Boston
In Southwest Florida since: 1980
At Silvio’s shoe repair in Naples, the same sequence of events plays out several times a day:
The door bursts open. In rushes a woman. In her arms she cradles— much the way she might cradle a dove with a broken wing—a pair of broken designer pumps. In the throes of what is obviously a major sartorial crisis, she shoves the shoes across the counter. Her voice tinged with panic, she asks, “Can you fix them?”
With several decades of shoe repair experience, shop owner Silvio Palomba usually can. His store is a veritable shoe ICU, with rehabilitated Jimmy Choo sandals and Prada pumps lining the shelves, ready for release. We caught up with Palomba to hear how he got his start as a cobbler and what he loves about his work.
From pipes to pumps
“Originally, I was a plumber in Italy. When I married my wife, I went to work for her father-in-law, who owned a shoe repair shop in Boston. I worked there seven years. Working for your father-in-law can be tough. It was turbulent at times, but when he retired, I took over the shop.
“I have a mind that absorbs. It really only took me a year to learn how to do everything in my father-in- law’s shop. I have a mind like a computer; it’s a gift.”
“The feet are different in Florida. People come here and start wearing flip-flops, and their feet spread. So the feet in Florida are wider than they were in my shop in Boston. I stretch a lot of shoes here.”
“I can tell in an instant whether I can fix a shoe or not. Sometimes, if I know I can’t fix it, I’ll hold the shoe up to my ear and say, ‘I’m sorry, the shoe is dead; its heart doesn’t beat.’”
Death of a repairman
“The synthetic shoe really destroyed our business. There’s not many of us left anymore because these days most shoes are throwaway shoes. In the ’70s we started to see a shift to plastic soles and synthetic heels, and, at that time, we didn’t even have a glue to fix them with. It didn’t matter, though, because people just threw them away when they wore out.”
“In Naples, people have expensive shoes. Like $2,000 or $4,000 shoes—real expensive stuff —so they won’t just trust them to anybody. We’ve earned our reputation over the past 32 years, fixing, I don’t know, maybe a zillion shoes. When we tell someone we can fix their favorite pair of shoes, you should see their face; that’s the best part.”
More than shoes
“We fix so much more than just shoes. Our main repairs are fixing heels and soles, but we fix suitcases and belts and purses, too. A lady even brought in a purse and we made it into a dog carrier for her. We put mesh panels into the bag so the dog could see out and everything. So, we do all kinds of work.”
Silvio’s Shoe Repair, 287 Ninth St. S., open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and Saturday 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Cash only for repairs less than $20, paid in advance. Shoe repair services start at $10. (239) 963-8584.