In discussing Herb Teicher’s article about Middle Village merchants (“The Grocery Stores of Middle Village,” Spring 2022) my old friend and former Middle Village neighbor, Leo Pompeo, recalled an incident which took place one summer’s day back in the late forties. An incident that clearly and poignantly illustrates Herb’s contention that many, if not all, of the Middle Village merchants really thought of themselves not as profit making businessmen, but as an integral part of the social fabric that formed the Middle Village community of that bygone era.
It seems that on this day Leo was playing across the street from John Ricciardi’s shoe repair shop on 69th Road, next to Gumerick’s grocery, on the comer of 76th Street where we both lived. As Leo ran back and forth, the distinct sound of the sole of his shoe flapping against the bottom of the shoe could be heard. “John the Shoemaker” heard it as he sat on the steps of his store watching the children play. After a time, he called to Leo, “Hey, come over here”. Leo stopped running and dutifully crossed the street. (In those days an adult’s request was not usually questioned.) John motioned Leo inside and followed him in.
“Take off your shoes,” John said.
Leo took off his shoes and handed them to the shoemaker. “What’re you gonna do?” Leo asked.
“I’m gonna fix your shoes,” John said, as if the question was ridiculous. “But I don’t have any money,” Leo said worriedly.
“That’s all right,” John smiled.
Soon John handed the shoes back, not only had he put new soles on both, but heels as well. Leo ran out to play in his now nearly new shoes; he couldn’t wait to tell his father what had happened. That night when Mr. Pompeo came home from work, Leo excitedly told him what John the Shoemaker had done.
His father nodded and smiled. The next day Mr. Pompeo made it a point to drop off some home-grown vegetables at the shoe shop. In those days you could get a permit to garden on city owned land. Mr. Pompeo’s small plot was on 75th Street right around the comer from John’s store.
Tragically, John the Shoemaker’s life was cut short by a heart attack a few years after this incident. I doubt if he was even 50 years old when he died. John Ricciardi was probably the favorite merchant of all the kids in the neighborhood. I remember that he never talked down to us and it was obvious he really liked children. I can still recall how badly we felt when news of his sudden death reached our disbelieving ears. Yes, the town bad lost a fine merchant craftsman, but even more importantly, the kids had lost a good friend.
This article was originally published in the Middle Villager.