Our Neighborhood Cobbler, err…Shoemaker…err…Shumake

We Remember….

My dear friend, Dr. Tom, asked me if I remember the sights, sounds and smells of the cobbler, our shoe repair man, the shoemaker.
“Of course,” I replied. We shared similar memories. Here are mine.

Our cobbler, Mr. Caruso, was known as Shumake, as in “Go down to Shumake to get my shoes.”

I lived on Wealth Avenue in the Mount Pleasant section of Providence. From my home, it was a hop to the end of the street where on Academy Avenue, there was a barber, a variety store, a tailor, a liquor store and a grocery store to the right… a bakery and a fish and chip store to the left.
The shoemakers shop was to the right and in the middle of them all. He lived above the barber shop in the house next door.

I loved to go to the shoemaker’s shop. The place was humming with  the whirring of his stitching machine and the tapping of his hammer as he nailed the soles and heels to the shoes.
The machine occupied the length of the shop and was along a side wall. I watched him stride to and fro along its row to sew the newly cut leather and then to polish his finished product. Above the machine was a shelf holding a row of shoes waiting to be claimed.

The Shoemaker''s Whirring Mchine

The Shoemaker”s Whirring Machine

cobbler tools 2

On the other side of the counter was an iron stand on which he snuggled a shoe, sole up, to glue the leather or nail a heel. He had a certain way of holding a shoe against his gray, glue-stained apron while cutting the excess leather with a very sharp curled knife. He was a serious craftsman. He had to be.

However, what I remember most were the smells of oil, glue, alcohol and leather. They permeated the shop, the street and my nose for a long time after I left the shop.

Even today, I can hear the noises and smell the smells of Shumake’s shop, and if I entered blindfolded, I would know immediately where I was.

Tell me about your shoemaker….

© 2016

By | 2017-07-10T16:10:06+00:00 November 14th, 2016|Neighborhood, Stories of the 1940's and 1950's|15 Comments


  1. Ann G. Boulet November 14, 2016 at 2:39 pm - Reply

    My Dad was a cobbler in downtown Providence near the old City Hall Hardware. In fact, the place where he worked may have been called City Hall Shoe Repair.
    I remember fondly the times my mother would take me into the place and I would get to sit way up on the high shoe shine chairs. I also remember a section of the store being delegated to John the Hatter who cleaned and repaired the top hats worn by most men as well as fashionable dress hats worn by women. The word I often heard was “cappelli.”
    I also remember the day my father came home early from work and I learned he had been laid off. He never got another full time job in the shoe repair business but he did often help out a Mr. Miga on Putnam or Julian Street. Again I loved stopping by that shop as well.
    I agree there’s nothing better than the smells of the “shumake” shop!

    • Ed November 14, 2016 at 6:04 pm - Reply

      Great memories, Ann. I remember both the places you describe. I worked in City Hall Store at Christmas and grew up in the Putnam Street neighborhood; in fact Putnam Street School was my first.
      And I will never forget the smells from the cobbler’s

    • Ed November 15, 2016 at 12:22 pm - Reply

      Ann, do you have any pictures of your dad in his shop?

  2. Maria H. izzi November 14, 2016 at 9:09 pm - Reply

    There was a cobbler in the Knightsville section of Cranston, RI that resembled the actor Clark Gable. In true Italian form, he was never known by his given name but as Clark! I never knew his real name. So every time my grandmother wanted us to pick up her shoes she would say, “Runna down to Clarks and get the shoes.” It always makes my family laugh to this day to remember Grandma speaking about “Clark” the cobbler.

    • Ed November 15, 2016 at 12:21 pm - Reply

      A memorable character, one of many from our youth. Wish I knew him, but cobblers were territorial in those days. Ha.
      Thanks, Maria.

  3. fred santaniello November 16, 2016 at 1:51 pm - Reply

    Your article caused a flood of memories for me. Our “shumake” was Mr. Mosca who had a small shop on Branch Ave., across from St. Ann’s School in Providence. Dropping off shoes for taps and/or heels was always a treat for me. Looking at and listening to the belt driven machine’s spinning wheels and brushes, the unique smells of the small shop and making sure to hold on firmly to my half of the repair pick up ticket, worried that if I lost it, I lost my pair of shoes, made my day. He was a great, skilled gentleman who always had a smile on his face and a stoggie in his mouth. I distinctly remember his hands; big, strong, callus and dirty. He worked his magic on our worn out shoes, making them almost new within a week. After his passing, I looked long and hard for another cobbler !

    • Ed November 16, 2016 at 1:55 pm - Reply

      Wonderful story, Fred. I can feel your emotion and share your memories. Ben scritto!
      So a question. Why the taps on the shoes? To save the heels? That’s what I heard from many.
      However, our junior high principal, Mr. Cerilli, sent anyone with taps home to have them removed. Too much noise.

  4. Natalie McKenna November 17, 2016 at 1:36 am - Reply

    You worked at City Hall Hardware!? It was a great place to shop. My brother worked there before and after returning from the service in the 40’s. He met his wife there. They were married over 50 years. He has since passed, but my sister-in-law is still going strong.well into her 90’s.
    In my neighborhood in Providence’s North End, there were many family owned stores and shops on Ledge Street, which ran from Silver Spring Street to Charles Street. Of course, one of them was a cobbler who was right next door to Harold’s Barber Shop. His name was Mr. Pepe and he was old and bent over from being in that position for so many years. I remember his hands, which were always full of polish and the machinery that he used and of course the smell of leather and glue, etc. Cat’s Paw rubber heels, leather pieces, shoe laces of all kinds, etc. My Pop worked for a leather findings store in Providence, on Exchange Place and supplied many of the shoemakers with their fare. His store is not longer there, but was in the same block as the Hospital Trust bank. Oh, those memories are returning again. Such wonderful times!!!!!!!

    • Ed November 17, 2016 at 1:16 pm - Reply

      I worked at City Hall Store at Christmas in 1960 and 1961 when I was a student at PC.
      What are he names of your brother and sister-in-law?
      Your memories are just wonderful and you write them so well, Natalie.
      I forgot the Cat’s Paw heels, but never forgot the smells. I’m sure we would recognize those shops if we went in blindfolded. The machines would have to be turned off… too much of a clue.
      Happy Thanksgiving!

  5. richard pugliese November 17, 2016 at 3:36 am - Reply

    My shoemaker was my grandfather, had a little shop on Burrington St Ptovidence. The house was on the high part of his property and the business was just below and to the right of his home. worked every day making and repairing shoes and boots. Great craftsman, ability to create works of art in leather. Died at his machine doing what he did best. from Rich Pugliese 11/16/2016

    • Ed November 17, 2016 at 1:12 pm - Reply

      I did not know that, Rich. Yes, they worked with pride. Loved their jobs, did them for life, never complained. Just so pleased to have the chance succeed in our great country.

  6. Vin DiBiasio November 17, 2016 at 5:07 am - Reply

    I knew my shoemaker very well. He was my Italian born father. Ed,you bring back memories that came to mind from the early fifties at our tenement in the Mt. Pleasant neighborhood. My father wasn’t a shoemaker (retired from U S Rubber after 31 years) however both he and my grandfather had the metal shoe forms and stand as shown in your photo. My father also had a metal stand that was a metal form with two curves that fit over each thigh. He could place the form on his thighs while in the sitting position to make repairs. When my brother and I needed to have new leather soles or heels replaced, he would take out his shoemaker tools which included the the metal forms, glue, nails, shoemaker hammer, leather knife, dark brown liquid(for coloring the edge of leather soles) and a sheet of leather. He apparently knew of a supply store for his shoe repair needs of nails, leather, rubber heels,etc. He didn’t have any machinery to make the job any easier however the job came out very well but took a little longer.

    (Ed: I worked at the City Hall Store in the toy dept.during the1960 Christmas break at PC. Also, my wife lived on Putnam St. and a distant relative married Mr. Miga who had a shoe repair shop on Jullian St.)

    • Ed November 17, 2016 at 1:11 pm - Reply

      Great memory, Vin. I had forgotten the thigh instrument. I did see our Shoomake do it.
      We have crossed paths so many times. I worked at City Hall Store 1960 and 161 Christmases.
      Your wife’s family probably traded in Lepre’s Market at the corner of Atwells. Carlo was married to Della.
      Buon Ringraziamento.

  7. Vin DiBiasio November 25, 2016 at 10:55 pm - Reply

    Since my last comment mentioning City Hall Hardware, it brought back memories of shopping there with my mom during the early 1950’s and working there during my Christmas break at PC in the early 1960’s.

    As a youngster my mom would take me downtown on the bus to shop during the Christmas holidays. She liked to window shop especially at the Outlet Company and CHH. Both stores had large window displays full of Christmas gift suggestions. I would stare at the toy items displayed and ponder what I’d like for Christmas. ( CHH later changed their name to City Hall Store in an attempt to change their image to compete with the Outlet Company, the biggest department store in Providence.)

    On one shopping trip with mom, I remember buying a pair of shoes at CHH. There were two levels in the shoe department. One level was where all the shoes were on display and another upper small upper mezzanine where the payment transaction took place. A clerk would take the cash (we didn’t have any credit cards) and place it into a small tube and send it up to the mezzanine where the payment was recorded and a receipt provided.

    As most college students were always interested in making a few dollars during academic breaks I applied for a job at CHH. I was accepted for a position in the toy department insuring the shelves were always stocked. It was an especially busy place at Christmas time. I was responsible for keeping the shelves stocked. The toy stock was at a warehouse adjacent to the main store.

    A surprise was that CHH supplied a voucher for supper. Someone mentioned a Waldorf cafeteria was nearby. On my first visit I viewed the menu up on the wall to see “ Salisbury Steak”. Wow, the voucher was good for steak! I ordered the steak which was covered with brown gravy complete with mashed potatoes, roll and jello. Now what would an Italian-American kid know about Salisbury steak? Much to my surprise I took a good look and said to myself, this doesn’t look like steak”. I stuck my fork slowly into the “steak” and picked up a small piece and placed it into my mouth and started to slowly chew into it. It tasted like meat loaf! Well, I guess I learned what Salisbury steak was. Since I was hungry, I ate my supper and headed back to work.

    I still have my W-2 forms which show I earned $95.00 with $16.15 withheld for Federal Income tax and $2.85 for F.I.C.A. for 1960 and $366.00, $62.54 and $10.98 respectively for 1961.

    • Ed November 26, 2016 at 6:01 pm - Reply

      Vin, this is so good that I will blog it. Thank you!

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