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Last of his Kind

DeRosa the last shoemaker in county

January 3, 2010
By JOEL DiTATA, The Leader-Herald

GLOVERSVILLE - John DeRosa is the last of the shoemaker breed.

For 42 years, DeRosa has worked in the shoe repair business in Johnstown and Gloversville and is the last remaining shoemaker in Fulton County.

DeRosa also worked in shoe sales in the Glove Cities. He operated stores on South Perry Street and South Market Street in Johnstown and sold shoes on the Arterial, all the while he repaired shoes and performed a craft that now is a "dead trade," by DeRosa's own admission.

Article Photos

The Leader-Herald/Joel DiTata
John DeRosa, owner of DeRosa Shoe Repair, repairs a broken heel on a leather boot at his shop Monday.

Since coming from Italy on Dec. 30, 1955, DeRosa has been a resident of Gloversville. His father ran a shoe repair shop until 1967 when John took over. DeRosa credits his father with teaching him the trade.

"People that have patience will gradually learn something," DeRosa said.

His current shop at 43 N. Main St. has been his base of operation for the past 10 years.

"It's simply not an attractive job, which is difficult to learn and is very tedious, but I've always liked it," DeRosa said.

Although business is steady, DeRosa needs to supplement his income by working a second job at Off Track Betting on Second Avenue, which gives him full benefits that he otherwise does not receive as a store proprietor. DeRosa has worked about a 12-hour day - from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. - between the two full-time jobs for the past 10 years. These are long and difficult hours for any employee but DeRosa said he enjoys what he does.

"I can't even see myself sitting at home, I would get too bored," he said.

DeRosa admits his art has practically gone by the wayside due to advances in modern technology, new materials and the past 10 years of a changing economy. The personal skills of a shoemaker are not high in demand anymore, he said.

"Generations change, the older generation is more accustomed to fixing a shoe but now, people would rather buy new ones and just throw out the old ones," DeRosa said.

Although DeRosa may believe that he is working in a "dying" industry, Fulton County Regional Chamber of Commerce & Industry President Wally Hart recognizes the importance of DeRosa's business.

"He still provides services that people need, the community supports him. All local businesses are what make the community successful," Hart said.

Another local business, Vishnu Music has been a staple in Gloversville for over 20 years.

Like DeRosa, Vince Ottalagano, the owner of Vishnu Music, knows it takes extra work from local businesses to compete with the major corporations and has respect for his fellow businessman.

"He has longevity," Ottalagano said. "I know he does good work, I'm greateful that he's still in business.

Ottalagano has been working through the holidays and staying open later every night to attract extra customers.

"An advantage is that the local guy usually treats you a lot better than the big business guy," Ottalagano said.

Both DeRosa and Ottalagano have enjoyed the years of service they have provided to Gloversville and Johnstown.

DeRosa has given decades to his craft and now is the lone shoemaker in Fulton County.

However, he is a realist.

"I'm not irreplaceable or indispensible," DeRosa said. "But no one wants to learn the trade."

Joel DiTata can be reached by e-mail at



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