LEBANON, Pa. — Just in general, not too many businesses, no matter the type or area they serve, can say they’ve lasted since the turn of the century. This is especially true for shoe repair shops, which have since been trending as a “dying breed.”
Fortunately, and maybe even more remarkably, for one Lebanon business, it has overcome those obstacles and will celebrate a milestone on Sept. 7.
DiNunzio’s Shoe Repair, at 43 E. Cumberland St., is celebrating 100 years of serving Lebanon and its surrounding areas, now a four-generation family business.
“I think being a four-generation business helps. But because it’s down to us after there used to be eight shops in Lebanon, what’s happened is the shoe industry’s change in different qualities, but we’ve changed with it,” said owner Dave DiNunzio. “That’s the main thing. Most of the time, this industry is passed on from generation to generation.”
DiNunzio’s Shoe Repair was started by DiNunzio’s grandfather, John, when he was just 16 years old and had learned about shoe repair from DiNunzio’s great-grandfather, Nicola. The business was then passed to DiNunzio’s father before DiNunzio took over.
The store fixes anything from high end shoes, to boots, and even character shoes. It also offers canvas repairs, as well as zippers and coat repairs. And because of other shoe repair shops closing, the Lebanon-based business is now bringing in customers from Reading in Berks County, getting three to five new customers a week, as well as Harrisburg in Dauphin County, and Lititz and Manheim in Lancaster County, and other surrounding areas.
DiNunzio first started working in the industry with his dad at a young age as well, at 10 years old.
“We had shoe shine stands back then. A lot of guys used to come from the VA (Lebanon VA Medical Center), and Fridays and Saturdays were hopping back when Lebanon was a hopping town,” he said. “The veterans used to come in off the bus when we were located on Eighth Street to get a shoe shine. So we’d always earn money that way.”
But before continuing in the business after college and then eventually buying the business in 1980, DiNunzio almost didn’t follow in his ancestor’s footsteps.
“When I got out of high school, I went to college for business administration and accounting. My uncle told me people weren’t learning the trade and to stick with it,” DiNunzio said. “Sure enough, when I got out of college, they weren’t paying enough for accountants, so I just stuck with it.”
And from the moment he took over, DiNunzio never once thought his family business would ever go out of business.
“I never thought of the closing part. It’s never been part of my thinking,” he said. “You see ups and downs, but it all comes around.”
DiNuzio also credits his wife, Karen, for the continued success. And her birthday also happens to be Sept. 7.
“She basically runs the front counter. She’s here a lot and couldn’t have done it without her. She’s always by my side,” he said.
But with his children — son, Michael, and daughter, Natalie — deciding to work in other industries, and now 62, DiNunzio, in an effort to keep the century-old business alive, has brought in an apprentice, Charles Kuleda, who came over from working in the corporate world.
“I had gotten to know Charles four years ago doing a special buildup on his shoe. When he came in, he couldn’t even walk. So I had been working with him and doing his shoes for several years, and he just came to me this year and asked if I would consider taking an apprentice. After some hard thinking, it would be terrible to close the business when I’m 70 or 72, since that’s what’s happening.”
And working full-time for another 10 years or so is the goal for DiNunzio, but even then, it’ll be hard to keep him away.
“I can’t sit still,” he said.
And as the triple-digit old business continues to grow, DiNunzio reflected on what family gone before him would think about it today.
“I would hope they’d smile down on it. They were glad and proud I kept everything going,” he said. “But it’s just hard to believe I’ve actually been at this 51 years.”
Kuleda, along with DiNunzio’s son who does graphic design, is working on a new fully automated website for the business, which will be launched in the coming weeks.
Information from: Lebanon Daily News, http://www.ldnews.com