Business

Craftsman Sustains Irving Street Shop’s Historic Shoe Repair Role

By Paolo Bicchieri

Sunset Shoe Repair on Irving Street first opened in 1890 as a barber and a shoe repair shop. Folks would get their shoes shined while they cleaned up. Today’s owner, Tony Kamely, bought the shop in 2009. He says this is the oldest shoe repair shop in San Francisco.

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Tony Kamely, owner of Sunset Shoe Repair, stands in his Irving Street shop, which he has owned since 2009. Photos by Paolo Bicchieri.

Kamely, a Lebanese immigrant, is the fifth owner of the business. On a Saturday morning, Orthodox chanting plays softly on the radio. Rows of shoes line the old walls. Kamely stood bedecked in prayer beads and an oily apron talking about how grateful he is.

 

“The Inner Sunset is the greatest area in the City,” Kamely said, throwing his strong hands across his chest. “America is a great opportunity for everyone who has a dream. I love America like I love my country Lebanon,” he says. “I have confidence in this country.

“America is the greatest country on earth,” he added. “Immigrants who want a better life should be able to come here.” 

Kamely was born in Lebanon and identifies as a Lebanese Phoenician. He said he is a Catholic Menonite, what he calls “the mother of the churches.” For 25 years he has worked as a shoe designer and repairer. He came to America in 2005 and worked at a shoe repair shop in the Sunvalley Shopping Center in Concord. 

He says the Inner Sunset is changing for the better. He likes Easy Breezy, the frozen yogurt spot. He likes The Beanery, “the best coffee shop in the neighborhood.” He says the Sunset is a relaxing family neighborhood for people who want to come to the City.  

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Tony Kamely stands outside his shop which has operated as a shoe repair business since 1890 (when Benjamin Harrison was president of the United States). 

Kamely likes a lot about San Francisco. He likes SF Mayor London Breed, he likes Saint Dominic’s Catholic Church, “the nicest church in San Francisco,” where he has worshipped for five years. And he likes the City’s style.

“People wear very expensive shoes,” Kamely says of San Franciscans. “High heels, dress shoes. They like to protect their shoes. You cannot wear tennis shoes every day.”

He said some of his customers come from as far away as the East Bay just to receive his handiwork.  

“We do a very good, quality job,” Kamely says. “That’s why the customer is very happy.”

He displayed hand-made Louis Vuittons made of elephant skin that are 15 years old and worth $1,000. He pointed out another pair of shoes made of denim blue.

“These ones I make,” he says, flipping them around in his hand. “They’d be worth $800.”

Kamely says he wears his custom shoes to church every Sunday.

Sunset Shoe Repair is located at 621 Irving St. 

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