Tuesday, December 18, 2007

A. Fontana Shoe Repair

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.


Anonymous said...

So sad, I just had some shoes heeled there and I was told the same thing. Good bye Fontana I will miss your shop.

I doubt what goes in that space next will be anything special, anyone know of any rumours?


Anonymous said...

I always wondered how these shoe repair guys stayed in business.

I guess the answer is that they don't

Suzannah B. Troy artist said...

You are a witness.

I feel like we are on the Titanic but it is the East Village, Bowery and Lower East Side and city wide...tsunami of community crushing development thanks to Bloomberg.

Just heart breaking and the photos reinforce the dynamism of small business vs. the generic mega mall ala Bloomberg.

Thanks for awesome reporting.
You are reporting what the newspapers are not.
Thank you!
Suzannah B. Troy
I am joining you and Bob Arihood in your courageous reporting and stunning photo journalism.
Bob's blog

Krikri said...

I used to live around the corner from that shop until - you guessed it - they raised my rent 30% and I got priced out. I always tried to make a point of patronizing the "old-school" shops in the hood, especially after the 2nd Ave Deli closed down. It's really such a shame every time one of those little shops bites the dust due to high rents. Thanks for the great pictures!

Suzannah B. Troy artist said...

Just looking at the photos and they are beautiful Jeremiah...sad and beautiful.

I posted a picture of St. Marks Book Store which can't afford St. Marks Place.

I heard gossip on the street that 2nd Avenue Deli could have stayed in their famous location but they didn't.

It is so sad because my building has just joined the rest renting to a bank so we have yet another bank in the East Village. I not only am surrounded by mega dorms but my building is feeling more and more like one. Maybe one day it will be owned by NYU.

Anonymous said...

We have an "ol school shoe repair shop in Santa Monica, CA. biting the dust too. I'm filming a doc. on it, anyone want to contribute on the east coast, let me know. Bruce (310) 528-0845

Anonymous said...

Former new yorker writing from Echo Park , Los Angeles. One reason I left the east Village was that I couldn't stand the daily outrage and heart break. Of cousrse the gentrification is here too.It's everywhere. Or, almost.
Our local little cobbler dissappeared too, here in EP.Replaced, at least by another small business -albeit a hipster boutique.
The thing that strikes me is what Mr.Fontana said: no more tailor, no more barber shops, no more cobblers. These are artisan professions, of a kind, evaporating, obsalescing. What happens to the broken shoe? It gets thrown in the garbage and replaced with a new pair from TARGET, made by a Chnese teenager who works 100 hours a week in a factory. Gone is the knowledge of a well-mde shoe, the pleasure of a well-shod foot. Gone is a reverence for THINGS as well as PLACE. It's all going to end soon and this reverence will return stronger than ever. We have no choice. Cheers from the left coast. I love "Vanishing NY" Bravo!

Jeremiah Moss said...

i hear you, i think about leaving, too. but like you say, it's bad all over.

Unknown said...

I had my boots (of which I have several)and my girl's boots (of which she has much more)up-kept there every couple of months, until I moved to Brooklyn about two months ago...all I really have to say is goddamn sometimes I hate this city so much; as it's continually soaked with bleach in the spin-cycle of our modern-dollar-day. Shit!

Reverend Billy said...

Jeremiah - it seems important that Angelo sez the guy kicking him out is the son of the original landlord, who had only two buildings and was the local pharmacist. His son has 150 buildings, and has the karma-less view of the world the Darwinian economy is just OK. It's that scale that lost him his humanity. --- Rev Billy

Jeremiah Moss said...

thanks Rev Billy for passing on that info about Angelo's landlords. it shows that money, landowning, and power does not necessarily corrupt, if kept within scale. but at some saturation point, corruption seems an inevitable bedfellow.

glad to have you as a reader here--keep up your good works!

Anonymous said...

Just got this from Rob Hollander's mailing-

Dear Neighbors and St. Markians:

Performance artist Rev. Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir will lead a rally on Saturday, Feb. 2, at 12 noon in front of St. Mark's Church in-the-Bowery in support of Angelo Fontana, a skilled shoemaker who has served the neighborhood from his shop across from the church for 45 years. He is being forced out by a rent increase. (See Bonny Rosenstock's article on page one of THE VILLAGER, Dec. 27, 2007, issue.)

The greedy landlord's assumption is, apparently, that the yupper class that is invading our neighborhood has no need to get their Manolos repaired. They just throw them out when the "season" ends and buy new ones. And, we really need another bank, too.

Jeremiah Moss said...

did anyone attend this rally today? sadly, i missed it. and thanks for the info.

Anonymous said...

We are losing our city to the Starbucks and Banks and all the big chains. Its really depressing.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone have a mailing address for Mr. Fontana?
I would love to send him a thank-you card for all the great work he did for me over the past 20 years. I don't walk down that block all the time, and had no idea about this until today , when i tried to drop off some boots! :(
Really, really sad...
if you have any info, please email me at althea @ razorwire.com

Anonymous said...

Mr. Fontana and I once had the same landlord, the father. My rent was raised three times within that same year to three thousand per month above the original agreement. The apple does not fall far from the tree, karma-wise.

laurasr said...

i must have missed that shop. i used the russian on e.14th, near second ave (bet 2nd& 1st). usually for heels, soles, cleaning of suede boots. he did not have the special machines for tapering & shortening boots. i had to go all the way up to lexington & 94th st, another italian. who i have used for years. what i cant under stand is WHERE will people go to have their shoes fixed? or clothes tailored, etc? not everyone has disposable shoes! or gets rid of $600 manolos. possibly the EV is going to become a big commercial area, & not a practical place to live. (dorms& clubs? & all those college kids?? what do you expect?) i noticed that there are many artisans on upper lexington avenue. not only the cobbler, but many custom tailors (from hong kong & korea. the good news is that some of them are new businesses, but very old world). also there was a custom boot maker on lex & around 64st, west side of street. you get your own "last", which is the wood model of your foot! i was there like 2 yrs ago. i think that area should be looked at by jeremiah. the 30 blocks from 63rd to 96th. i wonder if its not changing as fast as the EV? i find it to be less offensive, more practical. there are many small shops, owner is present. its peaceful, thats where the real $ is, not in condos on avenue "B". i know its easier for JM to do the EV as he lives there, but lets look @ other areas.