Owner of Georgio’s Shoe Repair, Master leather craftsman, and cordwainer Arsen Sheklian in his workshop in Fresno where he repairs and produces handcrafted leather shoes and other leather items. Photo by Frank Lopez
Written by Frank Lopez
At Georgio’s Shoe Repair and Leather Goods in Fresno, formerly known as The Sierra Shoe Repair, Arsen Georgio Sheklian makes and repairs handcrafted, quality leather goods and shoes, continuing a local legacy and keeping a craft alive. He is the owner, master leather craftsman and a “cordwainer” – a leather shoemaker, not to be confused with a cobbler, who only repairs shoes.
Along with selling custom leather shoes and handmade leather goods designed and made in the bottega (Italian for “workshop”), Georgio’s also offers handbags made in Italy and shoes from Red Wing Heritage, as well as top-quality shoe care products.
George Sheklian, Arsen’s father and original founder of the business, started making shoes in Buenos Aires, Argentina in a shoe factory when he was just 8 years old.
“His family was very poor. My dad always did whatever it took to make ends meet, to help his family,” Sheklian said.
Eventually, Arsen’s father opened up his own shoe factory with his brother in Buenos Aires, but left the business with his brother in 1962 and moved to the United States.
In 1962 he opened his first store in Madera. The next year he opened up the first Sierra Shoe repair in Fresno on Ashlan and Cedar avenues, later moving into the Manchester Mall during its heyday, then to a location on Blackstone and Sierra avenues.
Sheklian Sr. was always doing for others, and would work on any shoe, no matter the price, believing that no job was too small. His store quickly became a staple of Fresno.
Sadly, an unexpected tragedy befell the family in 2014.
On a December 2014 morning, Sheklian Sr. was on his daily coffee run, on his way to say “good morning” to his neighbors who owned the gun shop next door. Two men who were robbing the store ran out and knocked him down. He suffered brain trauma and died some days later in the hospital.
George Sheklian was 85 years old when he passed away.
Filling big shoes
At a young age Arsen would help out around the shop. He never saw it as work, but as time he got to hang out with his dad – and he was happy to have his own money to buy candy.
At 14, Arsen started showing a strong interest in music, and his father knew that he wasn’t interested in going to college. His father approved of his choice but made him learn a trade so he could always have a job if he needed it.
Arsen discovered Rockabilly music in his 20s and formed his own group. He realized his dream of becoming a travelling musician and toured Europe under his stage name of Arsen Roulette. He even played with rock n’ roll legends Jerry Lee Lewis and Ike Turner.
In 2009 Sheklian was living in Parma, Italy, as his home base and travelling with his group all over Europe when his father suffered a heart attack. He returned to the United States to help.
“It was a blessing in disguise,” Sheklian said. “I’m so happy that I spent those years with him. I remember thinking, ‘I don’t want to do this the rest of my life, but I have to help my dad’. A few days after a month something clicked in me and I thought that this business is awesome.”
It was during this time that Arsen and his father started the “Georgio’s and Sons” line with items designed and materials chosen by them that were manufactured in Italy, offering a quality shoe that is more affordable than ones handmade.
The Georgio’s and Sons line has over 40 different items that are either handmade, or manufactured in Italy, and even though they are only semi-handmade, Sheklian says that Italian shoemakers take a lot of pride in their work.
The years went by and Arsen kept learning more of the craft, and spending time with his father in the bottega.
After his father died, Sheklian was left at a difficult crossroads, and was unsure of closing the store, or continuing his father’s work.
“It didn’t take long for me to decide to continue my father’s legacy,” said Sheklian. “To say that you’ve been in the business for 50 years – why not 100or 150?”
Of course he missed his father’s presence at work, and Sheklian did have to face the challenge of running the shop on his own without his father – who he said was an “encyclopedia” on shoe making.
In August 2018, Sheklian realized another of his dreams when he opened Georgio’s Shoe Repair and Leather goods on Palm and Herndon avenues.
A master’s touch
While there are other shoe repair stores in the Central Valley, Georgio’s offers custom shoes and master leather craftsmanship.
At one point, Sheklian was making products for large companies that would be sold in major department stores such as Macy’s, but due to a non-disclosure agreement he signed, he cannot reveal the company by name.
“There’s no shop like what we do – we make shoes, we make handbags, we used to produce for big companies,” Sheklian said.
Over the years, Sheklian and his father built up a loyal following of customers, and aside from some newspaper ads, Sheklian Sr. didn’t advertise too often, believing that “if you do a good job, the work speaks for itself.”
Sheklian advertises on social media platforms such as Instagram, and that has helped get customers from different parts of the U.S. and Europe, including Germany and England, which he says is impressive considering the great shoemakers in the United Kingdom.
To ensure the best quality products, Sheklian imports his leathers directly from Italy, which imports their cows from the Swiss mountains, which are said to be the best cows for leather because they are free to roam around without scarring from barbed wire or insects.
The charitable and giving spirit that was in George Sheklian was also passed down to his son.
Even though Sheklian usually works 12-14 hours a day, 6 days a week, with the help of two other employees, he still finds time to help others.
Sheklian Sr. was adamant about helping war veterans, and Arsen is know to repair shoes of people who don’t have a lot of money. He also has snacks to give out to homeless people that come by the store, and donates handbags for charity to the Make-A-Wish foundation.
After having heard of a teacher who was taking upon herself to help repair her first grade’s class shoes, Arsen volunteered to fix their shoes for free. He keeps their thank-you notes in the shop.
Sheklian hopes to one day pass his store and trade along to children and grandchildren and continue to help others when he can.
“Everybody hopes to continue to just grow,” Sheklian said. “My biggest hope is to just be the best I can for everybody, and to continue to provide a good service to this community.”