A Shoemaker’s Spirit
Feb 11, 2016 07:24PM
George Sheklian, who passed away last December, is pictured repairing a customer’s shoe. He operated Sierra Shoe Repair at various Fresno locations since 1963.
As many of us deck the halls and take in the spirit of the holiday season this December, local shoemaker Arsen “Georgio” Sheklian is doing his best to not only stay positive with holiday cheer but to also continue the legacy his late father, George Sheklian, left behind.
Arsen, 39, lost his father unexpectedly last December when he was trampled by a group of thieves who had just robbed the gun store next to Sheklian’s Sierra Shoe Repair shop, also known as Georgio's and Son.
George Sheklian was on his way to say good morning to the gun store’s owner and take him a cup of coffee, which was his morning ritual, when the robbers stormed out of the store, knocking him to the ground. The 85-year-old was critically injured when he hit his head on the pavement. Arsen witnessed the tragedy and did all he could to help his ailing dad, but little could be done and the injury he sustained ended his life.
Few could endure such a tragedy and return to work in that same shopping center, but that is precisely what Arsen did, pickingup where his father left off.
“Honestly, it is tough,” Arsen Sheklian said of carrying on his father’s work in the shadow of what happened. “I have my good days and my bad days. It’s one thing when [parents] go from old age and it’s another thing when they go because of some tragedy.
Arsen, 39, lost his father unexpectedly last December when he was trampled by a group of thieves who had just robbed the gun store next to Sheklian’s Sierra Shoe Repair shop, also known as Georgio’s and Son.
“Sometimes, there is no explanation for it, but sometimes you don’t need one because there are no answers. One thing my dad was always big on was being positive. ‘Don’t think negative,’ he would say. So that is what I do, I stay positive.”
A generous history
This attitude, Sheklian said, resonates with the customers, many of whom have been coming to the shop to have their shoes fixed for years.
“I had one customer come in to have his shoes resoled and he said my father had resoled the same pair over 20 years ago,” Sheklian said.
The Fresno shop’s roots were planted in 1963 at Sierra Shoe Repairs’ first location at Ashlan and Cedar avenues. It later moved to a once-booming Manchester Center and then finally to the shopping center at Blackstone and Sierra avenues. In August, the shop moved just a few feet from its old storefront to its new spot next to Best Donut House.
The store’s history and positive vibe aren’t the only aspects of the business that are remarkable. The late Sheklian was well-known for his generosity as well as his craftsmanship and Arsen has made it his mission to continue that legacy.
Not only is Arsen generous to loyal customers — he offered one regular customer who came in during this interview half-off an expensive Dooney and Bourke bag — he enjoys helping those in need.
“My dad always said, ‘God gave us each other to take care of each other,’ and that’s really what he lived by and that’s the legacy I’m continuing.”
Right next to the cash register, Sheklian keeps hand-drawn thank-you letters from local elementary school children whose shoes he repaired free of charge after learning their families couldn’t afford new shoes.
Also, in the front of the store, he keeps a stash of snacks that he shares with a few homeless friends who stop by the shop to have their shoes repaired. Sheklian recalled one instance where a homeless man came in and was excited about having been offered a job, but in order to do the job, he needed work boots.
“He asked me if I had anything for $5, and I found a pair that had been left here for some time and just gave them to him,” Sheklian said. “I didn’t need the $5. It wouldn’t make or break me, but for him, that’s a meal.”
It’s this spirit of giving that lives on.
“My dad always said, ‘God gave us each other to take care of each other,’ and that’s really what he lived by and that’s the legacy I’m continuing,” Sheklian said.
Musician turned artisan
While Sheklian is determined to continue his father’s legacy, he has also added his own flare to the business.
Originally, Sheklian never intended to be a shoemaker. Instead, his life’s ambition was to be a musician. He achieved that goal, traveling Europe and performing under the stage name Arsen Roulette. His passion was rockabilly music, and he would play the upright bass and guitar. He was so good at playing the upright bass, he even performed with the legendary Jerry Lee Lewis.
Things were going well for Arsen Roulette as he continued to tour the world while living in Parma, Sicily, in Italy. It never crossed his mind that he would come back to Fresno and work in his dad’s shop the way he did as a teenager. But, four or five years ago, when his father had a stroke, Sheklian knew he had to return to help his dad out.
“I picked up a shoe and automatically, all that knowledge I learned as a teen came back,” Sheklian said. “It was like riding a bike. At first, I started doing it sporadically. I didn’t know what was really going to happen but I knew I had to help. Then after two weeks, all of a sudden I started falling in love with this work. I was like, Holy cow, this is what I want to do for the rest of my life. ”
Since then, Sheklian has continued to perform with his band and has traveled back to Italy a few times, but his main focus is being a leather artisan.
As a craftsman, Sheklian can repair almost anything.
An old pair of work boots needs new soles and waterproof coating? He can do that easily. A heavy-duty duffle bag needs a stronger strap so its owner can carry 30 pounds of camping gear? He can do that, too. An everyday-use backpack needs to be stitched up? No problem. And these are just the items brought to Sheklian on a recent Tuesday afternoon.
He’s even been entrusted on several occasions to repair the most luxurious of ladies’ shoes:Jimmy Choos.
“My specialties are shoes, bags, belts, wallets and accessories, but right now, I’m even fixing a saddle,” Sheklian said.
Sheklian’s work goes way beyond just repairing leather items. He also designs and creates new shoes, wallets, belts and handbags, the latter of which he picked up while working at a luxury handbag factory in Italy.
His own line of handbags, made under the Georgio’s and Son label, are a hit with many of his regular customers, but he does more than just make items to sell in the store. He also does manufacturing work for luxury companies located along Madison Avenue in New York.
“When it comes to leather, it’s my calling,” Sheklian said. “It’s an art. You have to be a craftsman to do this work.”
Day by day, shoe by shoe, Sheklian carries on his father’s legacy by taking care his customers. Just the way his father did.
Written by Valerie Shelton.