A familiar face will soon be missing from the Pleasant Valley Shopping Center.
Richard Lato of Altoona, who has operated Lato's Shoe Repair for nearly 32 years, will close his business at 5 p.m. today.
"I am retiring. I put nearly 40 years into this and am moving out of the area to be closer to my family. With the economy for small businesses, it is rough any more," said Lato, 64. He said he and his wife, Catherine, are moving to Camp Hill.
Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec
Richard Lato repairs a shoe Thursday at Lato’s Shoe Repair in Pleasant Valley Shopping Center.
Lato said closing his business was not a difficult decision.
"A lot of shoes are made overseas and the quality of stuff is harder to repair any more. Everything is so inexpensive, you can't survive on $2 and $3 jobs," Lato said. "I will miss the people, my faithful customers - the people that supported me."
Lato's Shoe Repair was the last remaining shoe repair business in Blair County. Al's Shoe Shop in Hollidaysburg - operated for more than 55 years by Carmen Piccirilli, who died Oct. 31 - closed in 2007.
People will have to travel to the Johnstown or State College areas to find a shoe repairman.
"I feel like I am letting a lot of people down. They will have to travel to get stuff done that I did for them. These kind of businesses are falling by the wayside," Lato said.
Lato started with his father, Frank, at the shoe repair business at the former Gable's Department Store. He said he did more than just repair shoes.
"I did orthopedic corrections and sold shoes, slippers and boots. We made leather belts. I did all kinds of repairs - anything you wanted done, even dog collars," Lato said while working on a 60-foot canvas boat cover.
Lato said the shoe repair business is difficult work.
"You have to learn on the job; it is not an easy trade. It is the type of trade where nothing is the same. Everything is different and people don't want to work and put in the hours," Lato said. "The volume and profit is not there with the expenses to be in business. You need to do a lot to make a profit."
Jack Eberhardt, part-owner and manager of the Pleasant Valley Shopping Center, said Lato will be missed.
"One thing we pride ourselves in at the Pleasant Valley Shopping Center is we have had some long-time tenants, and Richard Lato leads that group," Eberhardt said. "His work in today's environment is very difficult for someone to make a living in. He managed to provide a unique service that there is still a market for."
Longtime customer Vivian Norris of Hollidaysburg said she will miss Lato.
"We are losing a good friend and a fantastic shoemaker. I don't know what I am going to do without Lato's Shoe Repair," Norris said. "This guy is fantastic."
Lato said he hopes to sell his equipment and inventory to a shoe repairman from New York state.
He said he hopes to work part-time after moving, but much of his time will be devoted to baby-sitting his son Jason's children, Isabelle, 2, and Cooper, 1. They live in Mechanicsburg.
He will also have more time to spend with his daughter, Michelle Fuhrman of Lancaster, and her children, Matthew, 15, and McKenzie, 13; and his son Kevin and his children Grace, 12, and Max, 9, who live in Charlotte, N.C.
Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.