INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- Nearly 48 years ago, an Italian immigrant named Paul Cento came to the Circle City to pursue the American dream. In Italy, he was already known as a famous shoemaker who had made shoes for the likes of Sophia Loren and Pope Pius XII.
But here in Indianapolis, he simply became known as the go-to man for all things shoe-related. And although he has since passed away, Cento’s sons now carry on his legacy in a little shop at 33 S. Meridian Street, just south of Monument Circle.
The right pair of shoes can take you anywhere, but today, ours are taking us to Cento Shoes for this trip In Your Neighborhood.
“My dad, he handmade shoes, so he could look at your shoe and flip it over and be able to tell, ‘You wear the outside more’ or the inside and just fix it that way,” said Tony Cento, Co-Owner of Cento Shoes. “They didn’t even ask any questions…They were just like, ‘Here’s my shoe. Do what you do.”
Times have since Paul Cento opened Cento Shoes back in 1971. These days, his sons, Tony and Michael, are carrying on the family legacy.
And they couldn’t have imagined life any other way.
“Growing up, probably 5-6 years old I was in here…I went to school and in between playing football and different sports, then went to high school and I got a college degree but it was just something I knew,” Cento recalled. “You know when you know and I just felt it the whole time.”
These days, we live in a world where monthly subscriptions for cheap shoes are everywhere and cobblers seem few and far between.
“It is a lost trade… 30, 40, 50 years ago our parents and our grandparents, they recycled their shoes. They fixed them,” said Cento “We live in a world that because there aren’t a lot of places, you just assume it can’t be done and you don’t know.”
Society has changed quite a bit since Tony's father first opened the business, but so have shoes themselves.
“[They] are made a little different. Materials are a little different…It’s not so much authentic shoe repair, it’s more of just taking care of what needs to be done as the shoe wears out,” Tony said.
These days, it’s more about finding that perfect pair of shoes and extending their life as much as possible.
“[It’s] kind of like taking your clothes to the laundromat,” he explained. “You just don’t throw them away…It’s just people don’t understand that shoes can be redone and you can enjoy them and wear them instead of just pitching them.”
Here in the workshop, a favorite shoe that seems like it may have walked its last steps can be brought back to life through services that cost a fraction of the price you’d pay for a new pair.
“A lot of times for about $20 to $30, a woman can get a lot of things done to her shoe,” he said.
Sometimes that means a new heel tip, raising or lowering a heel or a toe repair on a woman’s favorite pair of stilettos, or maybe just a simple polish or paint will help it look as good as new.
“Men’s are normally the heels… the soles,” he said. “Then, a really cool thing called a ‘sole saver’, which is a thin rubber…It helps so you don’t slide. And you don’t feel the wetness and it protects the leather.”
When it comes to shoe shopping, Cento advises more isn’t always more. From his standpoint, quality takes precedence over quantity.
“You can buy 5 pairs of shoes for $100 but you really get what you pay for,” he said.
He says quality is key— especially when it comes to leather.
“Good leather comes back because they’re stronger…Really what you want to do is buy the best shoe, obviously, that you can. Because the quality of the leather will make the shoe last longer,” Cento explained.
“Or nowadays with E-Bay and all these consignment stores, buy a shoe that’s older or your parents or grandparents want to [give as] hand-me-downs, you really want to get it because it’s the older things [that] are better,” he added.
And even if your favorite leather shoe looks worn and weathered, it doesn’t mean you need to toss it out.
“Leather is skin. So you put lotion on your skin to preserve it. And if you do that, your things last longer,” Cento said.
That principle goes for things beyond shoes. Cento can also restore items like leather jackets, handbags and more.
If you aren’t exactly sure whether your shoe or leather item is fixable, Cento says just bring it in and let the experts give you their honest opinion. In fact, you might be surprised as to what they can do—even if it’s a really worn out shoe that will take a little extra time and TLC.
“They’ll get it back and they almost can’t believe it,” he said. “So, I just want people to come in with the things they love and let us see it and take care of you and give you more life of the shoes, purses, boots and all of your personal belongings that you have already enjoyed.”
As rewarding as it is to see the before and after of a job well done, their favorite thing has always been the people they serve.
“We live in a fast world, but when people appreciate and trust you, it goes a long way,” Cento said. “So we’ve met a lot of wonderful people.”
Four Things You Need to Know About Cento Shoes:
- Cento Shoes was founded in 1971 by Paul Cento. Cento was a famous shoemaker in Italy, known for making shoes for actress Sophia Loren and Pope Pius XII. Unfortunately, Paul passed away in February 2013. Today, his legacy is carried on by his sons, Tony and Michael, who are now the co-owners of Cento Shoes.
- Not only can you come to Cento Shoes for various shoe repairs and leather restoration, but they also offer stitching, orthopedic work, professional shoe shines, zipper repair and replacement and much more. They even sell shoes, hats, and various clothing items right there in the shop.
- Stepping inside Cento Shoes feels very old-world—even though it’s located right in the heart of downtown Indianapolis (at 33 S. Meridian Street), it’s still the kind of place where you can chat with the owners, learn a lot about shoes and make a friend along the way.
- Cento Shoes is open Monday-Friday from 8:30AM-6:30PM, Saturday from 10AM-5:30PM and closed on Sundays.
For more information about Cento Shoes, check out their website by clicking here. To see more photos and reviews by local Yelpers, check out their Yelp profile. You can also connect with them on social media via Facebook.
While visiting downtown Indianapolis, check out these other popular local businesses located a within walking distance of Cento Shoes: