Palace Shoes keeps craft of shoe repair alive

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-110615318530657.jpg’, ‘Photo by Melissa Wangall’, ‘Father Lou (right) and son Tom Giamalva inspect a shoe in the Palace Shoe Repair shop. Lou has been working full time at the family-owned business since 1948.’);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-110615322030660.jpg’, ‘Photo by Melissa Wangall’, ‘Dave Giamalva repairs a shoe in the shop of Palace Shoe Repair at 204 N. Main St. in the downtown River District.’);

Family-run business has been selling and repairing leather shoes and items since 1926

A declining craft that has been in existence for hundreds of years continues to be worked in a little store on North Main Street in the downtown River District.

In the family-run business that has been in Rockford since 1926, three men spend their days mending, replacing, and polishing leather shoes and other leather items.

Lou, Dave, and Tom Giamalva, owners of Palace Shoe Repair, have been learning and using the tricks of the shoe repair trade for almost their entire lives. Lou has been full time since 1948, and part time since he was 12, shining shoes under the guidance of his elders. His sons, Tom and Dave, were also christened into the trade at their own turnings of 12, and have since become full time repairers.

It is a nice feel walking into the Giamalvas’ shop; smelling the leather, hearing the smooth rasp of the polisher, and being brought back into the past at the sight of the same well-running equipment that has been in use since the 1930s.

The store offers the usual stock of well-made men’s leather shoes, but when one looks a tad closer, there is something different to be seen. This business offers custom-made shoes. In a matter of weeks, you can have handmade Tauer & Johnson leather shoes fit to your foot. The store also offers genuine leather purses, bags, hats, wallets, and even Bible holders. They have immense amounts of experience in replacing soles and heels in shoes, in fixing zippers, sewing patches, and replacing straps on different types of material. Palace also offers orthopedic buildups and has a remarkable instance of configuring a leather splint to accommodate a puppy with a broken leg.

To keep any leather article in top order, though, it must be taken care of. Palace offers an array of polishes that, when used properly, keep leather smooth and crack-free. Wear and tear will still be a problem, though, especially on the bottoms of shoes. Tom Giamalva offers his advice for shoe problems: “You take care of the uppers, we’ll take care of the lowers.”

This act of repairing shoes is also wonderful for the environment. Instead of replacing a pair of shoes every six months, adding to a landfill, repairing them adds to their longevity, as well as allowing sentimentalists to keep that one pair of shoes that they love longer than usual. Also, much of the material used to repair shoes is recycled, adding to the environmental benefits of shoe repair.

A pair of shoes can last up to 15-20 years, as long as they are repaired when necessary. The Giamalva men offered the following quick tips to keep shoes in tip-top shape:

Switch shoes every day—constant wear does not allow for the leather to dry out from foot perspiration;

At night, place a cedar shoe tree in shoes—this will absorb moisture from the leather as well as from your feet, allowing for less cracking; and

Polish leather shoes monthly and waterproof them at least once during the year, mainly in the winter season—this keeps the leather soft, shiny, and free from breaks.

More info: Palace Shoe Repair, 204 N. Main St., Rockford; or 962-6514.

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