Finding a cobbler to repair your luxury shoes could be a tall order in 2023, but the practice has not been totally abandoned.

In Bethel Park, Albert Amelio Jr. carries on the business his father started in 1951. While Al’s Shoe Repair has had several locations through the South Hills in its 70-plus year history, Amelio now operates by appointment-only out of a detached garage on his property at 1048 Logan Road.

Amelio’s father, with whom he shares a name, was born in the Pittsburgh area, but his older brother had immigrated to America from Italy.

“His older brother was also a shoemaker,” Amelio said of his father. “His older brother had a shop in Beechview; it was at the very bottom of Broadway (Avenue) on the left ... So he learned the business from his brother.”

The elder Albert, who lived on Pittsburgh’s North Side, took a liking to the South Hills.

“Typically everyone from the North Side goes north. He was like Columbus – He crossed the river,” Amelio joked.

Al’s Shoe Repair first opened along West Liberty Avenue in Dormont, but moved in 1958 to 450 Cochran Road in Mt. Lebanon.

That is where the business lived until 1972, when the Amelio family found the spot that brought in the most customers.

They took Al’s Shoe Repair to Manor Oak Village along Cochran Road in Scott Township. The other businesses in the plaza and amount of daily foot traffic was a boon for the Amelios.

“At lunchtime, all the people from the two buildings would come down and go to lunch. ‘Oh, there’s a shoemaker? Let me bring my shoes to him,’” Amelio said. “Our business tripled.”

The younger Al was a high school student at the time. Despite having football or wrestling practice, he worked alongside his dad three to four days a week.

“I’d be there at night until 11 o’clock with him. I’d come home from practice, eat, go down to the shop and work with him. So our business did well,” Amelio said.

Though he knew the cobbler business well, Amelio said it was important to his father that he go to college. He went to known as California State College, now PennWest California, and had a long career as a shop teacher at several Pittsburgh area high schools.

All the while, his father continued operating Al’s Shoe Repair. Amelio retired from teaching in 2012 and took over the family business as his father’s health was declining.

In May 2018, heavy flooding in the region severely damaged the store. In July of that year, Amelio’s father passed away.

“Just too many complications. He was 87; he had a good run,” Amelio said. “So now I was at a crossroads. What am I going to do? But I enjoyed it so much, I said, ‘Well, I’m going to keep it going.’”

Amelio transformed his garage into the current Al’s Shoe Repair, and operates under the slogan, “Saving soles since 1951.” Amelio was able to fully move into the garage in 2021.

He says he does any type of shoe repair.

“Soles, heels, rips, replace zippers in boots, put zippers in boots,” Amelio said. “You have a cowboy boot you can’t get on for some reason, open it up and put a zipper in.”

Joan Fabiani, of Mt. Lebanon, has been a customer of Al’s Shoe Repair since the shop was in the Manor Oak Village location.

“He’s a wonderful man,” Fabiani said of Amelio.

Fabiani has a shoe size of 5 1/2 narrow, and getting a good, long-lasting pair can be difficult.

“They’re very rare to find ... And they’re expensive shoes,” she said.

She paid $100 for a pair advertised as having leather soles. However, she discovered they were plastic.

When Fabiani needs shoe repairs, Amelio stops by her home to pick them up and returns them when finished.

“He was so kind. He put the soles back with leather. He didn’t charge me what he should have. I know it,” Fabiani said.

Fabiani’s own father was also a shoemaker, and she sees a lot of him and his work ethic in Amelio.

“He just does work as good as my dad did. You go to some of these other people, and it’s just terrible,” Fabiani said. “(Fabiani’s father) treated everybody right, and so does Al.”

Amelio also repairs leather jackets as well as luggage.

Amelio said the service he provides most often is stretching shoes. He thinks part of that is because people rarely have their feet measured in a store prior to buying shoes.

“Nobody measures your foot at a shoe store ... They ask you what size shoe you take, and sometimes you don’t know. You got to take your shoe off and look at the size,” Amelio said. “That doesn’t mean those shoes they’re bringing out to you are going to fit you, because every shoe is cut a little differently.”

When he’s not repairing shoes, Amelio works as school bus driver for A.J. Myers & Sons.

Since the pandemic started in March 2020, Amelio said more customers have been finding his shop online.

“People got used to having stuff delivered, and got used to going on the internet to look for stuff. I’ve had people come from Steubenville, Weirton and Wheeling,” he said.

He intends to do more advertising in those areas.

“There are no shoemakers in any of those towns. Not one,” Amelio said.

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