Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Cobbler Turned Customers into Friends Jan. 8, 1933 - June 20, 2019

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Cobbler Turned Customers into Friends Jan. 8, 1933 - June 20, 2019

Article excerpt

Francescoantonio "Frank" Serrao built an abundant new life in America on thrifty, old-school ways.

An entrepreneurial cobbler who could work miracles on leather shoes, he often held two jobs, saved regularly and paid cash because he did not believe in borrowing or buying on credit.

Friendly and engaging, he learned the life stories of customers who visited his shop in the former Allegheny Center Mall on the North Side. In return, customers often brought him souvenirs from their trips to foreign countries. Even the bus driver, making his last run of the night, often dropped the cobbler off right in front of his Highland Park home.

Mr. Serrao died of complications from the flu on June 20 at UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital. He was 86.

He grew up in southern Italy in the Calabrian village of Maierato. At age 10, during World War II, he saw British troops land on a nearby beach in 1943. His grandfather and father immigrated to Pittsburgh to find employment by working in the steel mills and laying cobblestones. At age 17, with $10 in his pocket, Mr. Serrao came here in 1950 because two of his uncles were boarders at a home on Larimer Avenue in the city's East End, said his son, Joe Serrao, of Shaler.

By day, Mr. Serrao was a laborer at Republic Steel in the Strip District. By night, he earned 75 cents an hour repairing shoes at Boggs&Buhl, a North Side department store.

Seven years later, he returned to Maierato and married Maria Scalamogna. The couple's first child, Joe, was born there in 1962 and was just a few weeks old when he came to Pittsburgh with his parents.

To support his family, Mr. Serrao repaired shoes - now during the day - at Gimbels department store in Downtown Pittsburgh and was employed there for more than 30 years. And from 3 to 11 p.m., as a U.S. Postal Service employee, he sorted mail by hand and knew the ZIP code for every community, said his daughter Palma Constantin of O'Hara. …

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