Vaccaro Shoe Repair Closes Shop

For three generations, Vaccaro Shoe Repair served as a classic example of the American dream.

It was an American story.

A recent immigrant, a family man, opened up a little shop in a quaint suburban town where he could practice a simple craft. He worked tirelessly, and his business thrived. He never thought twice about working 16-hour days, seven days a week and never taking a vacation, much less sitting down to rest his throbbing back or massage his cracked and blistered hands. He had children, and a wife; there were orders to fill, customers to consult with and bills to pay.

But Donato Vaccaro didn’t mind, his grandson, Luke Vaccaro, said. Donato Vaccaro opened Scarsdale Shoe Repair in April of 1929, about six months before the stock market crashed and ushered in one of the most bitter economic periods in our country’s history – not exactly an auspicious time to start a business.

Donato Vaccaro didn’t have time to fret over the Wall Street Journal’s latest round of dire predictions, though. He was too busy leaning over a sewing machine, stitching cracked shoes together for customers who didn’t want to run out and buy a new pair of shoes the second their current pair showed a touch of wear.

“What he built for our family was priceless,” Luke Vaccaro says. “Not in terms of money, but in terms of the opportunities he opened up for all of us.”

Sadly, Donato Vaccaro died young, and Luke’s father, as the eldest son (also named Luke), took over in 1950. He followed in his father’s footsteps, building a sprawling family nest feathered with filed soles, dyed leather and odds and ends the shop took in, like jammed zippers and busted luggage.

“All of my brothers and sisters worked behind the counter at one point,” Luke Vaccaro said. “We learned the craft, which takes years to really learn well. But when my father passed away at age 40 in 1970, I left college and took over the shop. I was the eldest of 13, and it was my responsibility to help my brothers and sisters and mother. But everyone pitched in, it wasn’t just on me. My sister Nicki and my brother Justin have worked by my side every day for about 30 years.”

At Luke Vaccaro’s urging, his other siblings went onto college and finished their education. “Education, education, education,” he said. “That’s what I wanted my brothers and sisters, and my own children, to go after. And they did. They are lawyers, consultants, and they also work in medicine and the business world. And it’s because of the opportunities that this shop, and the wonderful customers we met here, that they were able to do these things.”

Three generations later, the American story has become an American tragedy.

Vaccaro Shoe Repair is closing — a victim of a changing way of life and the economy, and an all-too common tale in this chapter of our country’s history.

“The industry has changed,” Luke Vaccaro said. “Scarsdale has changed. I read a survey recently that showed that only 7 percent of Americans get their shoes repaired now. It’s because people don’t need as many dress shoes, but it’s also a cultural thing. Twenty years ago, people got things like washing machines and shoes fixed when they broke. Now they just buy new ones.”

In addition to changing consumer demand, there aren’t the craftsmen who take pride in their work like there used to be for Luke Vaccaro to depend on.

“People think cobbling and repairing shoes is easy,” Luke Vaccaro said. “But it’s a serious skill. You have to have big hands, patience, attention to detail, strength, pride in your work and good hand-eye coordination. It can take years to train a good shoe repairman and I’ve had several walk out after just a week on the job when they realize how tough it is. It’s a dying trade. Literally – most of my guys have worked into their 70s and 80s, and none of the young guys out there are learning the trade in the same way.”

Luke Vaccaro says he wouldn’t have been able to hold on for the last 10 years if his landlord (who happens to also be the grandson of the landlord who leased the building to his grandfather) hadn’t been willing to “work with” their budget constraints, and if the people of Scarsdale hadn’t been so supportive.

“Truly, the customers have been extraordinary,” he said. “Out of the kindness of their hearts and getting to know my family over the years, they have given members of my family opportunities that we never would have had otherwise, and I can’t thank them enough.”

Luke Vaccaro is sad to see the shop closing, but says he feels like it’s time. Customers used to line up to get their shoes fixed at 7 a.m., and the Vaccaros were able to supplement their income by selling pet food and doing repairs for many of the shoe stores and even some department stores in Scarsdale and White Plains. Those days, however, are gone.

“About 15 years ago we stopped selling pet food when Petco and all of the other big box pet stores moved into town,” Luke Vaccaro recalled. “That hurt our bottom line. But what really killed us was when the shoe stores stopped having us fix their shoes. And the fact is, the world has moved on. People just don’t want to have shoes fixed anymore.”

The world may be moving on, but Scarsdale’s spirit will change when Vaccaro’s moves out and its example of hard work, the American dream realized and a true family business vanishes forever.

Vaccaro Shoe Repair will take its last orders in mid-August. The store is located at 11 Boniface Circle, and can be reached at 914-723-1308. Business hours are Tuesday-Saturday, 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.

rene sperling August 11, 2011 at 12:38 PM
Did not have many opportunities to use the talents of the Vaccaro's, but when I did I felt there was a special pride in their work. I love Scarsdale Village, and this shop was part of the charm and history I saw as I walked around. So sorry to see this family owned business leave. I wish them the very best in their future. Rene Sperling
June August 11, 2011 at 03:21 PM
My family have been customers of Vaccaro's since the 80's when we moved to Scarsdale. Nikki and her family will be sorely missed by us. Good luck to the Vaccaro family!
Outerluxe August 11, 2011 at 03:22 PM
Being in the fashion business and owning primarily Italian made boots and shoes my wife and I patronized the Vaccaro's for over 17 years as we knew they would always restore our footwear to nearly new condition. We will miss them and wish them well. Helen & Joe Barlow Outerluxe
Jack Miller August 11, 2011 at 03:28 PM
I am really going to miss the sights, sounds and especially the smell of that place. Hopefully we’ll get another bank, jewelry store, or high-end bakery. (Font for sarcasm is needed)
kevin maguire August 12, 2011 at 03:01 PM
What a same & sad day for a true hard working family. Every member of that family had a part of their business & knew their customers like they were long time friends. I went to school with them in Scarsdale & were always giving back to the community. Long live the Vaccaro's & thank you for being there!! Kevin Maguire
Brian Farrell August 13, 2011 at 03:13 AM
It is truly an end to an era and a very sad day. Having worked at Vaccaro's for 11 years I can honestly say that that are the reason I am now a professional in my field and owe Luke, Nikki, Justin, Leslie and the rest of the workers all I know about hard work and personal pride.
Charles Antonio Kaplan August 14, 2011 at 01:10 AM
To: Luke, Nikki, Justin and all of the Vaccaro's, you guys belong in the hall of fame for family business. Community service with charm, care and excellence. You're family. Charlie Kaplan
Andy DeCecco August 22, 2011 at 01:42 PM
Nikki u were the only one who fixed my chaps when I wiped out on my bikes. Justin U never ceased to make me crack up every morning on line @ Langes. Uncle Luke u got me my interview with Jimmy Rice@ Village Hall... And special thanks to BIG JOE who always protected us little guys @ Cooper Field. The God of Love and Peace takes care of his children Charlie right on... u guys r FAMILY!!!
Bonnie Koff August 25, 2011 at 12:58 PM
I am so sad that this incredible family business is leaving us. I have used them for over 40 years, without EVER have a complaint. Unfortunately I have a problem that requires one heel to be higher than the other and Luke and especially Nikki always made me feel that there was NO difference! Of course, my shoes were always PERFECT. I have a catch in my throat writing this! I'm losing good friends with the Vaccaro closing.
Jack Adamson August 28, 2011 at 03:45 PM
These are some of the finest people we have in our community. Their example to us of hard work and how to treat others will live on forever! Donato's dreams move on! Bravo to Luke, Nikki and Justin for showing us what life's all about, caring for others selflessly. Good luck!!.


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