In the Middle Ages, solemn processions took place very often in medieval towns to celebrate important events; both religious and political authorities paraded through the streets of the city center which were usually embellished with flags and banners. Among the most important people parading were the Priori, the representatives of the Guilds: the Priori of Money Changers came first, then the Priori of the Cloth Merchants and third, almost in each town … the representatives of the Shoemakers!
That sounds crazy, I know, because nowadays being a shoemaker is definitely not a profitable job, but back then their business was fundamental to the city’s economy.
Nowadays, going around through our towns, we still can find shoemakers’ workshops, but very often they are modern ones, with brand new machinery doing the work.
But if you are in Todi and get to Via del Mercato Vecchio (home of the Mercataccio parking lot), you still can be amazed by a “vintage” shoemaker, doing his job by hand and with love.
I’m talking about Mr. Rinaldo Zoppini.
Mr. Zoppini was born in Asproli, a small village in the countryside of Todi, and learnt the art of making and repairing shoes from his father, Pellegrino, who had been even before a student in the local Artigianelli Crispolti Institute for Artisans.
His father opened a workshop in Asproli after World War I, while Mr. Rinaldo opened his own workshop in Todi on February 1st, 1947, in the same place you can find him today!
As soon as you enter the shop, you can smell the glue and paints used to fix and polish the shoes; then you will see a very old working table totally overwhelmed with dozens of tools, some of them with really strange shapes!
Until 1950 he made everything by hand, using only a Singer Sewing Machine bought by his father in 1923.
Then in 1951 he could afford the expense of two new sewing machines ( branded Singer and Comelz) and a finishing table ( branded Lavaredo). He still uses the Singer today…it’s not an ornament!
His workshop is always full of shoes to be repaired because the people of Todi still trust him very much! We know that he is still working to the letter, even if he is more than 90!!! And he sometimes still makes tailored shoes!
This story is touching, but there is also a sad side of it… Mr. Zoppini is looking for buyers interested in his machinery because there is no one who would like to learn from him as an apprentice. He told me “Well, I can understand them – young – , the work is hard without becoming rich, on the contrary…”
Before throwing away an old or damaged pair of shoes, you should go to Zoppini and give it a try: perhaps he can refurbish them!