Torcaso Shoe Repair, sole of Kenosha

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Stepping into the Torcaso Shoe Repair Shop, 3305 60th St., feels like walking into a store from an older Kenosha.

Machinery decades old line the back wall, the scent of leather and oils fills the air and a Torcaso family member sits behind the counter to greet you.






Ray Torcaso, left, his sister Paula, center, and Steve own Torcaso Shoe Repair, which was opened by their grandfather in 1927.




The business is going on a century since Raymond Torcaso started his Kenosha shoe repair shop, and today customers can still come in for a new heel, resole or even a friendly chat.

Siblings Steve Torcaso, Ray Torcaso and Paula Spizzirri met with the Kenosha News at the shop recently to talk about the longtime family business, how the shoe repair industry has changed and what’s ahead.

American dream

The family business dates to the 1920s, when their grandfather Raymond Torcaso, who apprenticed to be a shoemaker since he was 5, left Italy at age 16 for America.

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As his grandchildren explain it, Raymond got a job in Kenosha, eventually saving enough to start his own shop in 1927. With the onset of the Depression, he lost the shop, eventually working for another shoemaker in town.

In 1936, their father Joseph, just 9 years old at the time, began working alongside his father Raymond, who would take over the shop in 1947.

In the decades since, countless Torcaso family members have helped run the business. Steve started when he was 14 years old, Ray when he was 11 and Paula when she was 17.

But it didn’t feel like work, the siblings agreed.

“We used to go down there when we were too young. We’d go hide in the back of the car so we could go to work with (our father),” Steve said.






Torcaso Shoe Repair is located at 3305 60th St. in Kenosha The family has been in the business for nearly a century.




Back in the day, there were 36 shoe repair shops in Kenosha, Steve said, because everyone’s shoes, from babies to adults, were repairable. Today, the number can be counted on one hand.

In the century since Raymond started his shoe shop, the business has moved a half-dozen times all over Kenosha, including Downtown. As the siblings see Downtown Kenosha fill up again, they find themselves as the last of a disappearing trade.

“The whole trade has changed,” Steve said.

Since the 70s, the siblings said, shoes have shifted away from repairability, using more synthetic materials and glues. Brands once renowned for their ruggedness and repairability have dropped in quality, and the availability of materials to repair shoes has become harder to find.

“The big deal is how the shoes are made,” Ray said. “It’s not just leather and rubber. It’s PVC, thermal plastic … you’ve got to be a chemist.”

Return to repairability

Recent years have seen a return to repairability, however. The shop has seen more young people coming in who value the economic, environmental and aesthetic benefits of owning and repairing a quality piece of footwear.

“Kids that want quality stuff are going online and doing their research,” Ray said. “They’re doing what they want to do; they want to customize them.”

The time, money and care put into something as simple as shoes creates a connection, the siblings said. There is sentimental value that can come with repairing old shoes.

“We just did one guy that got his shoes fixed because they were his dad’s,” Ray said. “He wanted to be able to wear them because his dad was gone.”

Good shoes that are well taken care of, including regular polishing, waxing and repair, can last a lifetime.

The siblings recalled Howard Brown, former owner of the Kenosha News and a family friend, who “wore the same shoes the entire time we knew him.”

“We have customers who’ve got shoes we’ve been fixing for 40 years,” Steve said. “You buy anything good, it lasts. The initial outlay is expensive, then you maintain it.”

Changing business culture

The story of the Torcaso Shoe Repair shop is an example of the American dream personified in Kenosha; an Italian immigrant crossing the ocean, building his own business and creating a better life for his family.

Many of Kenosha’s oldest businesses carry Italian names, but as time has gone on, they’ve either closed or been sold, something the three siblings reflected on as they talked about their own family shop.

It’s hard work running a shoe shop, the siblings said, and many aren’t interested in the business. While large stores can offer repair services, the lifetime of skills passed down in the Torcaso family is hard to replicate.

“There’s a lot of hacks, but there’s not a lot of experts,” Paula said.

Family shops closing means a change in the local business culture. The siblings recalled people dropping by the shop not for repairs but to just have a coffee with their father. Those personal connections are missing today, Paula said.

“Nowadays the shopping experience is pretty impersonal, even checking yourself out. How many times can you really talk to someone, get to know their name?” Paula said. “There’s no customer care.”

While the speed and low cost of internet shopping dominates the market today, Paula urged residents to support local businesses.

“People do everything on the internet,” Paula said. “People are going to be sorry not using local businesses someday.”

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