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Shoes get the boot

Saturday, December 14, 2002

By Jan Ackerman, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Old Shoemaker Joke: A guy comes back after a year to pick up shoes he left for repair. "They'll be ready in a week," the shoemaker says.

Unclaimed shoes have been piling up for years at Palermo's Shoe & Athletic Repair Center in Lawrenceville, all brought in for work but never picked up.

Shoes, bagged and ready for pickup, line the shelves of Ullrich Shoe Repair, Downtown, where Rex Streno, co-owner of the shop, works on a pair of boots. Streno said his cobbler father-in-law always told him he was required to keep unclaimed shoes for a year. (Darrell Sapp, Post-Gazette)

"I must have had 50 or 60 pairs," recalled Bucky Palermo, owner of the shop for 56 years. He donated them to the Polish War Veterans.

Then a customer came in with two claim tickets -- 2 1/2 years old, saying he had been visiting his parents in South Africa and hadn't been able to pick up his shoes.

"I said, 'If you had come a month ago, I would have had them,' " said Palermo. The customer was not happy, prompting Palermo to ask that age-old shoemaker question:

How long are you supposed to keep unclaimed shoes?

When state Rep. Paul Costa, D-Wilkins, was asked that question by his own shoemaker, he cobbled a law that allows shoemakers to get rid of footwear left at their businesses.

The law, which goes into effect in February, gives shoemakers the same protection against liability that dry cleaners have in disposing of unclaimed clothes, provided the shoemaker follows the requirements of the law:

If the shoes are not retrieved within 90 days, the shoemaker may send a certified letter to the owner. If no one picks up the shoes within 30 days after that, the shoemaker can get rid of them.

The law suggests that shoemakers donate unclaimed shoes to charity. Costa joked that this might be good for the "sole."

As far as he knows, there was no law that regulated how long cobblers had to keep unclaimed shoes.

Apparently, it's not a big problem; several shoemakers interviewed yesterday said less than 1 percent of their work went unclaimed.

But they seemed to believe there was an old law out there that dictated how they should dispose of unclaimed brogans.

For example, Rex Streno of Ullrich Shoe Repair, Downtown, said his cobbler father-in-law always told him he was required to keep unclaimed shoes for a year.

When Bill Wells, owner of Charles the Cobbler in Peters, consulted a lawyer once about how long he had to keep shoes, he couldn't get a clear answer, but he was told that he shouldn't dispose of them.

Wells, for one, was pleased to hear that Costa had drafted a law that might help clarify some of the issues.

"There has to be a termination at some point," said Wells, who keeps unclaimed shoes for at least a year before donating them to charity.

For Costa's law to work, shoemakers will have to change their business habits.

Many now hand their customers a ticket with a number on it, without taking the customer's name or telephone number.

To follow the law, shoemakers must record the name and address of customers along with a description of the item. And they would have to be willing to spend $4.42 for postage on a certified letter with a receipt.

Streno said he doesn't believe Costa's bill, signed into law this week, will be effective.

"I think he jumped the gun on this one."

Streno and his partner, Dave Michalski, don't have any plans to change their policy in light of the new law. They have a sign in their repair shop on Sixth Street saying they are not responsible for any shoes left for more than 30 days. Streno said they keep unclaimed shoes for a year, though.

They require a deposit for repairs, which probably helps keep down the number of unclaimed shoes.

Then they either try to sell the shoes for a nominal amount or rip them apart to use the parts for other repairs.

"We take the steel shanks from the ladies' shoes," Streno said.

Jan Ackerman can be reached at jackerman@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1370.

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