Shoes to Fill

S queezed into the heel of Branford’s main drag, a narrow, old-timey storefront has quietly become a landmark. Branford Shoe Repair, the words painted by hand across the front window, has operated here for 48 years.

After all that time, proprietor Anthony Consiglio says, “I still look forward to coming to work every day. It keeps me going.” At age 82, Consiglio is not considering retiring. He opened this shop in 1975, after about a decade operating a similar business in West Haven. But all those years can’t compare to his broader family heritage at a cobbler’s bench.

“I’m a fifth-generation shoemaker,” he says. “My grandfather was a shoemaker in the Italian navy.” Consiglio’s father, Mike, took up the trade, and the family lived up above his Westville shop. “After school I used to go home, change and go downstairs and go to work,” Consiglio says. “I started when I was 11.” I ask if he can take a guess at how many shoes he’s repaired along the way. He smiles, shakes his head and finally falls back on, “If I had a penny for every pair,” then reconsiders: “Half a penny.”

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His shop is a functional mess of personal and professional clutter. In his window is a Singer sewing machine he estimates is 100 years old and an even older pair of high-button shoes. Racks of finished footwear in plastic bags line one wall. A sign announces, “Not responsible for shoes left over 30 days.” Another reads, “The best dads get promoted to Grandpas,” not far from family pictures tacked up behind his front counter. “I got eight grandkids and four great grandkids,” he says. “They’re all good kids.”

One photo shows his father sitting at a cobbling apparatus. Another is part of a newspaper clipping. “That’s me when I opened the shop here. I was 36 years old.” Given the family history, the next question seems obvious: Are any of the kids, grandkids or great grandkids thinking about filling his shoes? “No, none of them. I’m the last of the line.” Indeed, shoe repair appears to be a disappearing craft, and Consiglio offers one possible explanation. “Supplies have gotten expensive—out of sight,” he says. “People hear the price of a new heel and sole and they decide they’ll just get a new pair. That’s their right.” He picks up a man’s shoe with a brand new heel and sole. “See this? It cost 80 dollars. But this is a real good shoe, so it’s worth it.” He points to an old photo showing about 40 men at a dinner. “That’s the New Haven shoe repair group in the 1950s. Now most of them have retired or passed on. There’s not many of us left. And the number keeps getting smaller.”

Consiglio still gets quite a bit of work—“enough to pay the bills,” as expensive as they are. In back, where he works to replace heels and soles, his machines and inventory fill every working inch. “Over here, this is all my leather,” he says, pointing to a tall stack of strips in a range of thicknesses. “This got out of hand, pricewise.” Comparing two similar-looking machines, he notes that only one of them can handle boots. He points to another apparatus. “That’s 20 grand. It’s a sander,” which he’s soon using to smooth the rough edge of a sole he’s just replaced. Even a simple can of primer sitting on his workbench cost $30.

“Some people come in, they don’t realize what goes into fixing a pair of shoes,” Consiglio says. “They hear the price, and they decide to get a new pair instead.” But the dozens of finished shoes on his shelves, most bagged, tagged and waiting for pickup, indicate the need for cobbling is still afoot.

Branford Shoe Repair
1203 Main St, Branford (map)
Mon-Fri 7:30am-4pm, Sat 7:30am-noon
(203) 488-4420

Written and photographed by Jim Murphy. Image 1 features Anthony Consiglio today. Image 2 features a photo of Consiglio when he first opened the shop.

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