VANISHING: Spring 2008
After 45 years in its East Village location on 10th across from Saint Mark's Church, A. Fontana Shoe Repair is closing down for good. I went in this morning to buy a can of weatherproofing spray and the owner, Mr. Angelo Fontana, told me he'll be gone in about three months. The rent is going too high.
"Soon," he said of the city, throwing up his hands in futility, "there will be no more barbershop, no more shoe repair, no more tailor." That's the new New York. Now there is no place left for what The Washington Post called "one of the world's best shoe repair shops."
I asked Angelo if I could take some pictures of his wonderful shop. He shrugged his shoulders and said, "Everyone else is, why not?" He explained that The New York Times and a neighborhood paper, perhaps The Villager, will be visiting him this weekend to get their take on the story. Maybe they can coax more out of Angelo than I did -- he is a man of few words. But he did let me take plenty of pictures.
The shop is a time capsule, filled with wooden shoe lasts, fragrant jars of gooey glue, ancient machines outfitted with spinning brushes and buffers, and an assortment of tools that look like they came over from Mr. Fontana's native Italy sometime in the early 20th century. Posters and calendars of Italia cover the walls. A rabbit-eared television plays silently on the counter.
And the place smells wonderful--like leather and glue and rubber. It's an old smell, a vanishing smell.
In his poem "Walking Around," a longtime favorite of mine, Pablo Neruda says that the smell of barbershops makes him break into hoarse sobs. Today, I would add that the smell of A. Fontana's cobbler shop gives me the same, sad, desperate feeling.