Alle-Kiski Historical Society Presents Video of Beloved New Kensington Shoemaker Gene Montemurro

Gene Montemurro, the beloved New Kensington shoemaker who retired after 66 years, is now immortalized in a documentary produced by the Allegheny-Kiski Valley Historical Society and videographer John Bailey.

An armed robbery and family health issues prompted Montemurro to shut down Gene’s shoe service along Fifth Avenue in 2015. He’s been honored before, but the documentary lends historical weight to the shoemaker’s story .

“Just watching the documentary and hearing his story makes it feel more real, even though I heard bits and pieces of his story,” said his daughter, Joanne Nicastro, 68, of Lower Burrell. “We are proud of him.”

“Hey Gene” echoed through the society’s museum on Saturday as family and friends greeted Montemurro, 89, for the premiere of “The Gene Montemurro Story.”

“He’s done a lot of good things for the community,” Bailey said. “Sixty-six years of activity must be commemorated. Why not talk to a guy whose story is worth it.

Montemurro said he was humbled by the documentary as he sat with his family, including his brother Mario Montemurro, 88, of Arnold.

Montemurro illustrates the experience of immigrants who arrived in the United States in the mid-1940s. He first worked in a hair salon and then as a shoe shiner in New Kensington.

After numerous shoe shines—earning 15 cents per shine, though customers usually gave him a quarter—Montemurro saved up $700 and bought a shoe repair business in 1949 and never stopped.

The 25-minute documentary shows Montemurro at his beast of an industrial sewing machine, which is currently housed at the museum.

In the documentary, Montemurro said that one of his secrets to happiness is forgetting the things that drive him crazy.

“My secret is to love everyone equally,” he said.

During Saturday’s event, Montemurro said, “Today is a different life. If you talk to anyone, it’s over the phone. Whatever people want, they call and have it delivered. It’s a disposable society. »

So much has changed, he lamented. As he was the last shoemaker in New Kensington, Montemurro said that when his business started, there were about 36 shoe repair shops in New Kensington and Arnold.

“There was a tailor, a barber and a shoe repair shop on almost every block,” he said. As with any family business, Montemurro’s children and extended family worked in the shoe repair shop.

His niece, Val Montemurro of Cheswick, 56, said: ‘I learned working there that you treat people with respect. You try to give perfection. If something is wrong, you fix it.

The documentary is available for $20 from the company and will be posted on its website in the future.

Mary Ann Thomas is editor of Tribune-Review. You can contact Mary at 724-226-4691, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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