Frank Longo: Still Saving Soles at Nearly 70
Among the last of a disappearing breed, Longo fixes shoes and anything you can name — dispensing humor and health advice along the way.
After starting as a shoeshine boy in his father's shop on Asbury Avenue, Frank Longo has become a nationally recognized shoe and leather craftsman. Awards that hang on the wall of Frank's Shoe Clinic recognize him as a shining star of the industry.
But he's more than that.
Stop in at Longo's clinic at 10th Street and Simpson Avenue and you're just as likely to get health advice as you are to pick up boots with rebuilt heels.
Longo is a fountain of knowledge about how the body works, orthopedics, chiropractic and natural healing methods, and he loves to share it with his customers.
You might say Frank's is a clinic for the heart and soul, as well as for heels and soles.
Almost 70, Longo appears more fit and stronger than many men 10 years younger. A lifelong distance runner, he took a hiatus after his beloved wife and clinic manager, Carol, died seven years ago. But he said he is training for yet another marathon, putting the miles on his Asics running shoes.
“I couldn't run 40,000 miles and 50 marathons and not be healthy,” he said. “I'd be dead.”
He has developed quite a following of people seeking relief from aches and pains. To a customer who complains of knee swelling and pain, Longo recommends an ice cube held on the spot until it hurts from the cold. Repeat until swelling is gone, he urges. And he counsels her against trying Zumba. Too hard on the knees.
As you might imagine, Longo has learned a lot about people and their bodies in decades of repairing their shoes.
“I can tell if someone needs to be adjusted just by looking at the way they walk,” Longo said. And you can tell a lot about the way they walk by the way their shoes wear, he said.
Podiatrists and chiropractors have been known to send patients to Longo. He sells a selection of Spenco brand orthotic sandals and other shoes, as well as foot-care products like hammer toe cushions and insoles
Of course, repairing shoes — and other leather items, as well as zippers, lots of zippers — is Longo's bread and butter. Cash only, please.
Open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday year-round, Longo will see some 50 customers on a busy day. He keeps about 300 people “on file” and often greets clients by name. Ladies often get a charming compliment that they look good and maybe a corny joke or two.
It's not about quantity for Longo.
“Quality is what I stand for,” Longo said. “If I can't do it right, I pay (customers). But I've never had to.”
On a recent mid-winter Friday, the little bell on the doorknob jingles frequently, alerting Longo and Jim Sampson, his stepson and self-described “evil sidekick” that someone has entered the neat shop. Customers drop off and pick up shoes. One lady stops by just to say goodbye to Longo; she was in town to visit her elderly father, a longtime Longo customer, and is returning to California to prepare to bring her father out to live with her, at least temporarily. She invites Longo to come out to visit them.
The clinic is attached to Longo's house in Ocean City's Italian Neighborhood — as a sign erected in the front yard attests. Longo was born and reared right here in the neighborhood — the youngest of seven children born to Calabrian immigrants Joseph and Mary. “But that doesn't make me Jesus,” he wisecracks.
Longo grew up working at any job he could get to help bring money in — including delivering newspapers and shining shoes at the shop his dad started in 1935. He learned his craft and work ethic from his father.
Saying Longo is among the last of a disappearing breed is like saying Ugg boots have become popular in the last couple of years.
“There used to be 11 shops like this in this town,” Longo said, and dozens more between Atlantic City and Cape May.
Now, Frank's Shoe Clinic is the only shoe repair store of its kind in Ocean City. Sampson, retired from Ocean City Police Department, joined Longo in the workshop in the last couple of years. They listen to country music as they labor in the neatly organized workshop — after their morning ritual of watching a “Three Stooges” episode. Photos of Carol Longo watch over the two men; she and Longo were married for 25 years, since Sampson was about 11, and they still feel her presence in the shop.
Customers come from far and wide with their shoes, boots, jackets, luggage — even tents and golf bags — in need of repair. Four-inch stilettos, snakeskin boots, work boots, running shoes, boat shoes, sandals. Many are victims of dog chewing.
“We get a lot of dog bites in here,” Longo said. “I tell 'em I'll fix 'em once.”
Rarely will Longo turn down a request to fix someone's favorite shoe.
No doubt, this is just one way Longo has managed to stay in business in a trade that requires long, tedious hours in a workshop pungent with a smell of glue, which Longo and Sampson said they don't notice anymore.
“I'll do everything most people won't do,” rarely turning down a request, Longo said. He shows a visitor a 20-year-old snakeskin boot with a gaping hole.
“It's almost a lost cause because they've been around too long,” he said. “They don't want to hear 'no,' so we do it. It's almost a code blue, but not quite.”
Take the Ugg boot, Longo expounds. Because of the way it's constructed, an Ugg often will get a hole at the toe before the rest of it is worn out. For about $30, Longo will put a suede toe cap over the hole, thus extending the life of the $120 boot.
“You have to be innovative in this business to be successful,” Longo said.
Innovative, yes, but also true to the past. Longo uses a stitching machine from the 1930s, just one piece of equipment that has stood the test of time in this craft. A mechanical spinning shoe brush helps return shoes to their original shine. Longo is a stickler for this: Not only will your shoes be repaired when you get them back, they will look as close to new as possible.
One of Longo's many fans is Wilbur “Bill” Christie, father of N.J. Gov. Chris Christie, who lives in Manahawkin and was steered here by Allen's Shoes in Northfield when he asked where to get his old shoes repaired. Frank's, they told him: Exit 30 off the Garden State Parkway.
“So we get to Frank's Clinic and we find a guy who loves life and repairing and selling great shoes,” Bill Christie said. “He did a truly magnificent job on my worn Florsheims — full sole and heels. They came out looking like new. He is a proud and skilled man, clearly a model for all of us.”
The two men shared a rapport.
“He was a breath of fresh air and yes, he loves our governor,” Christie said.
U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-N.J., recently picked up the burgundy wingtips Longo had repaired for him.
“He's an artisan,” LoBiondo said. “And he has a great sense of humor.”
Mary Ann Seitzinger and her husband Jim, of Ocean City and Allentown, Pa., brought a bag of shoes, including some belonging to their grandchildren, to Frank's on a recent morning.
“My granddaughter has cerebral palsy and she drags her feet,” Mary Ann Seitzinger said, so Longo helps repair the worn parts.
“He's been fixing mine for 30 years,” Jim Seitzinger said. “He's a good guy and he certainly knows what he's doing.”
Longo, who turns 70 on April 1, does it all with a healthy dose of levity and good will.
“We save the soles here and we take care of the heels,” he quipped before getting back to work.
Those snakeskin boots won't fix themselves.