Wheeling’s Beloved Cobbler Closing Shop But Opening New Opportunity Rich Wooding June 25, 2021 If you’ve walked down Market Street recently, you may have noticed a new “for sale” sign in one of its windows. After 116 years of business, Joe Campeti, owner of Campeti’s General Shoe Hospital, has decided to close the doors of his family’s business. Joe reluctantly determined that it was the right time to retire after a year of pandemic-related business challenges, coupled with some health issues. While Campeti’s loyal customers will be missing their favorite shoe doctor, Joe hopes that his storefront may provide a home to a new era of cobblers in the future. The only remaining online presence of Wheeling’s beloved shoe hospital is a few reviews left by happy customers. One such customer is Jenna St. Hilaire, who mailed in her kitten-heeled wedding sandals. Hilaire’s review reads: “even if they had been beyond fixing, I appreciated the prompt and kind customer service.” “I was working steady from the time I was seventeen years old until now at sixty-two,” said Campeti. But his career as a cobbler had to wind down after experiencing health issues, he explains, “I had to file for disability because of a loss of dexterity and numbness from the surgery.” Joe really wanted Campeti’s General Shoe Hospital to continue on as a business in some form, but a host of factors have hindered any progress. The biggest hurdle has been finding someone with a background in shoe repair. “I tried to find somebody to do it (the business) locally but they didn’t want to,” he lamented. He called his business associate in Pittsburgh in the hopes that expanding his search market might garner success. “I asked him if there was anyone up there who would want to buy the business or come to Wheeling. He said ‘Joe, there’s half a dozen guys up here and they’re all in the same boat as you. They want to retire and nobody wants to do it.” According to Campeti and the cobblers’ trade organization, The Shoe Service Institute of America (motto: “If the shoe fits, repair it”), the number of shoe repair shops has declined from 100,000 in 1930 to just a few thousand in recent years. A 2019 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article by Diana Nelson Jones lists only a few dozen cobblers in the greater Pittsburgh metro region. Of those, only a handful were under the age of sixty-five. “At one time, there were 25 shops just in this valley,” said Campeti, whose shop moved to the ‘Stone and Thomas Alley’ in 1968 from its prior location on 11th Street. “I used to have thirty to forty pairs of men’s dress shoes per week. I was doing repairs and replacing leather soles on them.” With today’s fast-fashion market, there isn’t the same demand for shoe repair. Campeti cites manufacturers such as Cole Haan, Allen Edmonds and Johnston & Murphy as long-term suppliers of apex leather footwear. In fact, Johnston & Murphy has been providing custom-made footwear to American presidents since their inception in 1850s Newark, New Jersey. “The same with Red Wing Boots. I sold them. They’re a top-of-the-line work boot. But for a top-of-the-line work boot, you’re going to pay $300 or more. In Wheeling that doesn’t fly [for the average buyer],” said Campeti. While there aren’t as many folks in the market for high-end footwear, there is still a need for the skilled work that only cobblers like Campeti can provide. Shoes of all kinds can be repaired, and with a new generation of eco-conscious consumers, more people are looking to repair rather than discard their favorite shoes and clothing items. And although Joe has hung up his own work boots for now, he still owns the building and is holding out hope for a resolution. “I’d like to sell the shop, the business and the building together. That would be ideal, but hard to do. I’m trying to market the business at the moment around the country in bigger cities but it’s very expensive to advertise in big-city newspapers. I’ve got some medical problems but if someone wanted to buy the business, there might be a training process built-in with the sale,” he said. “There’s all kinds of options but it would take years to train somebody and that person would have to get in here and advertise, plus I would recommend online sales.” If that doesn’t work out? “I’m going fishing, enjoying retirement and doing what I have to do. If I can’t do it, I’ll hire someone to do it. Wait for a few years for my wife to retire. Maybe we can do some traveling.” Want to learn more about Campeti’s legacy? Check out this video that Wheeling Heritage Media created in February 2020. Campeti's General Shoe Hospital Joe Campeti tells the story of Wheeling's longest running shoe repair shop, and his search for an apprentice. • Rich Wooding has been a Correctional Officer with the State of Ohio/Belmont Correctional Institution for more than 25 years. He received a Bachelor’s Degree in Mass Communication and Journalism with a minor in Philosophy from Lock Haven University of Pennsylvania in 1993. He is a U.S. Navy veteran, serving from 1985-89. Share this:Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Reddit (Opens in new window)Click to share on Pinterest (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Pocket (Opens in new window) Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.