Giovanni D’Italia waves to familiar faces as he stands outside his new shop at Seventh Street and Willow Avenue.
A recognizable face in the neighborhood, D’Italia has somehow overcome a seemingly impossible feat: expanding his shoemaking business, a declining industry, in a rough economy.
A family-owned business since 1960, the new Giovanni D’Italia Shoe Repair location officially opened last Saturday. It moved to the more spacious digs from its longtime location two blocks away at 7th and Garden streets.
D’Italia, who also has a location in Newport section of Jersey City, says his secret to success may be the contracts he has with dry cleaners in the area.
“I’m hoping they don’t come [back] to Hoboken and say, ‘What happened? Giovanni’s Dead!’ ” – Giovanni D’Italia
“I want to be all over town,” continued D’Italia, adding that he has aspirations to work with cleaners in Bayonne and Secaucus. “Hopefully the system will grow.”
A declining trade
Indeed, as D’Italia’s business and dry cleaning system expands, he admits he prefers the more personable, old-fashioned style of the trade.
“I had customers who I grew up with in Hoboken,” said D’Italia. “I wish I could talk to [them].”
“Before, you didn’t even have tickets,” continued D’Italia. “Now you have computers. To hell with the computers.”
D’Italia said that his old customers, with their die-hard habits, also have helped his business remain successful. He also said that he is worried that his old customers may not know that he moved.
“I’m hoping they don’t come to Hoboken and say, ‘What happened? Giovanni’s Dead!’ said D’Italia, “I just moved!”
D’Italia once told The Reporter that there were about 100 shoe repair shops back when his first location opened in 1960.
“[Now] I’m the only shoe repair in town,” said D’Italia. “Nobody wants to fix shoes anymore. People and their kids are going to college.”
D’Italia also said that women and their high-heeled shoes is perhaps the most fruitful, everlasting staple of his business.
“Women’s heels are going to be around forever,” said D’Italia. “As long as there are women, there will be high heels. Somebody has to be around to fix them.”
History in the making
The D’Italias come from a long line of cobblers who originally descended from Saracena, Italy.
Giovanni’s father, also named Vincent, emigrated from Italy to Cuba in 1957 and came to Hoboken in 1960. He sent for his son Giovanni, who had been born in Cuba and was 15 at the time, shortly thereafter.
The two quickly found a home in Hoboken’s large Italian immigrant community and opened Giovanni D’Italia at the corner of Seventh and Garden streets.
In December 2010, the city named a street corner “Giovanni D’Italia Cobbler’s Corner” in recognition of the decades of service to the community.
Stephen LaMarca may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.