No Business Like Shoe Business

March 2, 2007

Tucked in a small building on San José’s crowded Ave. 10, across the street from the famous Soda Castro, is a unique shoe store called Calzado Giovanny.

Founded 47 years ago by Costa Rican shoemaker Jose Antonio Gómez, who named the business after his eldest son, the store specializes in making dancing shoes – shoes for tango, Spanish dance, tap, ballet and jazz. Though it specializes in dance shoes, the establishment’s shoemakers also make men’s dress shoes, boots and almost any other type of shoe – “whatever the client wants,” according to the store’s head shoemaker, Carlos “Simón” Díaz.

Shoes from Calzado Giovanny are made with genuine leather and handcrafted by three shoemakers. Díaz, 60, a Nicaraguan who has worked as a shoemaker for 42 years, including 15 in this store, is in charge of cutting the leather and doing all the sewing. The shoes are finished by helpers Roberto Jiménez and Federico Castro.

Castro, also Nicaraguan, has worked at Calzado Giovanny for 12 years. Jiménez, an experienced Costa Rican shoemaker, started working in the store just two months ago, but explains that at age 70 he has “grown old making shoes.”

All of the shoemakers learned their trade at a young age.

Díaz says he began learning to make footwear when he was 16, after his father pushed him and his brothers to learn a profession so they didn’t have to follow his steps as a farmer and live “like he did, under the sun and the rain.”

Castro was 10 when he started to learn the trade in his aunt’s workshop in Masaya, Nicaragua. By the time he was 15 he was already working and when he was 18 he moved to Costa Rica to seek his fortune. He says he has worked many different jobs because making shoes “can be boring,” but he “always comes back.”

Jiménez started working in a shoe shop at age 17 and has worked making shoes ever since. Though he is technically “retired,” he says he doesn’t like to be “at home doing nothing” so he keeps coming to work to do what he knows best.

The three men work above the store in a small room lined with shelves holding lasts – wooden blocks shaped like feet – of all sizes.

Experienced shoe businesswoman Betty Hernández has owned Calzado Giovanny for the past year and a half. Shop founder Gómez, her brother-in-law, was the owner when she began working there 15 years ago. Gómez later sold the store to Nardo Vanegas; Hernández bought it from him in 2005.

The prices of the handmade shoes depend on their size and the complexity of the design. For example, a pair of women’s tango shoes costs roughly ¢12,000 (approximately $23), while a pair of men’s dress shoes sells for ¢22,000 (approximately $43).

Not only do they make shoes to order – including reproducing old worn-out shoes or making a pair to resemble those from a photograph – they also repair them, Hernández said.

“We have a shoe hospital,” she says. “People want to buy cheap shoes and end up bringing them here to be fixed.”

They also restore leather bags, and dye leather items including shoes, bags and jackets.

Located on Ave. 10 between Calle 2 and Calle 4, the store is open Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. For information, call 221-9715 or 233-0206.

 

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