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Last East End cobbler is planning to close: Only shop from Riverhead to Montauk

“I’m the last East End shoemaker there is,” Fred Ruvolo said. “There isn’t another shoe repair shop from here to Orient and Montauk. I draw people from both forks and from the west of me.”

And soon the last cobbler will be closing his shop.

Mr. Ruvolo isn’t alone in hanging up his cobbler’s apron. The Shoe Service Institute of America reported statistics that the number of shoe repair shops shrunk from 100,000 in the 1930s, to 15,000 in 1997, to about 5,000 today.

“Employment of these workers has declined quite a bit, to the extent that we don’t even really cover them separately anymore,” John Sargent, an economist with the Bureau of Labor Statistics, told the Washington Post. Many analysts say shoe repair is becoming a thing of the past because of American society’s “throw-away” culture.

Earlier this year, Mr. Ruvolo said he didn’t want too many people to know that he would be closing the Village Cobbler Shoppe on Riverhead’s Griffing Avenue on June 29. He feared there would be a last minute deluge of customers.

But that plan didn’t pan out.

“It’s out,” Mr. Ruvolo said last Saturday, as he held a cardboard box packed with nine pairs of shoes that a customer dropped off earlier in the day. “The word has been getting out and a lot of people are upset,” adding that he preferred to deliver the news to customers in person rather than hanging up a sign.

“It’s not an easy thing for me to retire,” he said. “I’ve spent my entire adult life here. This has been my community, and the place where all my friends are. I have a lot of good memories.”

Mr. Ruvolo is 73 years old and his business has been in Riverhead for 53 years. He said his fingers are starting to hurt from working so much.

He’s drawn customers from all over Long Island. He gets good reviews online, too. “This place is GREAT,” the first response on the website YELP stated.

“He is honest and does a great job,” the next one said.

And he didn’t just fix shoes.

 “I’ve fixed all kinds of things,” Mr. Ruvolo said. “Mainly shoe repair, but also luggage, horse stuff, car parts and zippers and stuff for the Fire Department. I used to make the buckets for the bucket brigade for the department.”

Regarding retirement he said, “I’m getting old. It’s time to move on.”

Mr. Ruvolo recalled his first shop in Riverhead. “Fenimore Meyer was my first landlord when I came into downtown,” he said, referring to the owner of a department store in Riverhead years ago. “He allowed me to be in business.”

Mr. Meyer charged $85 a month in rent. Mr. Ruvolo said he couldn’t afford that but could afford $65 a month.

Mr. Meyer responded, “$65, and when you do well I will raise your rent,” Mr. Ruvolo recalled.

He said he was going to miss the Riverhead shop. “It will be bittersweet,” Mr. Ruvolo said. “Riverhead has been so good to me.”