By JOAN HERSHBERGER For The Sunday News
EL DORADO — Go back in time to a smiling shop keeper who works from dawn to dusk, doing whatever it takes to support his family. Go back in time and remember when real leather shoes could be repaired, re-soled or re-heeled to wear again. Go back — but only for a couple of more weeks — to the Trinca Shoe Shop in El Dorado, opened in 1936 by Peter Trinca. Little has changed in the shop. The machines that the late Peter Trinca bought for shoe repairs continue to operate under the skilled hands of his son, Richard Trinca, who said, “Nothing has really changed in the shoe repair business.” Only the shoes have changed from repairable, sturdy leather to inexpensive vinyl and plastic materials.
The Trinca family entered the shoe repair business in 1921 when Sam Trinca (Richard Trinca’s uncle) opened a shoe repair business. His brother Peter, Richard’s father, joined him at the shop until he opened his own shoe repair shop around the corner a couple of years after Richard’s birth in 1934. Richard Trinca has one other sibling, a sister, Mary Trinca Egerer, born in 1935.
At that time and through the 1950s, not only could both Trinca brothers keep two shops busy, but there were at least three or four other shoe repair shops operating in El Dorado. In recent years the shop has only been open two mornings each week.
When Peter Trinca entered the business, all he had to do was repair shoes. “That’s all that Dad wanted to do. Other repair shops carried belts and purses,” Trinca said. By the time Richard Trinca began working at the shop, he realized he could not sustain the business or his family by just repairing shoes, so he did what he could. “A lot of times I would be busy. Then, I would have to find something to take up the slack so I could keep the business going.
You gotta eat a little dirt to get there and to come back. There is nothing I can’t do. If I could, I would do it.”
Trinca said he has repaired a leather bikini top, leather suits and skirts, “all this because people thought, ‘well you are working with leather, you can do this’.”
He has repaired purses, leather chaps, suitcases, and other leather and fur articles. If he was asked to shorten a skirt, “it meant cutting it off and then rebasting and stabilizing,” he explained.
One time he made a pair of cowhide pillows.
“You will try anything and succeed,” his wife, Pat, observed.
Although he has primarily repaired and replaced soles and heels, for many years he also dyed women’s shoes to match dresses for proms and weddings.
“Dyeing shoes about killed me. Back then we had silk shoes that were made to dye to match. There is no call for it now; they don’t wear matched shoes. But back then the bridesmaids always had matching shoes and dresses,” he said. “I had dresses all over the shop to match the color. I had to have day light to match the color. I would get the dyes ready in the day because the colors change after dark. I would stay and work on the dyeing until the wee hours of the morning.”
“He would come in nights mighty gripey” recalled his wife, Pat. “Dyeing shoes to match was difficult and tedious.”
“If I had limited myself to just shoe repair, I would have had to close up shop.
Dad said, ‘You’ll regret dyeing that.’ He did not believe in doing that. All he did were men’s shoes, and then there wasn’t enough of it,” Trinca said.
Recently, a man who was moving away from El Dorado with his job brought Trinca a pair of elephant skin boots. “He only had them for a year and a half. When he was moving out of the area,” Trinca said, “he was scared he would never find another shoe repair person.” So he asked Trinca to replace the heels.
“He hadn’t even worn the paint off the boots. He wanted to make sure they would last until he died. I told him ‘you have two more years of wear on those soles,’ but the man insisted, so Trinca repaired the boots.
In the past, before shopping malls, El Dorado had a thriving shopping district. “We would sit every Saturday and watch the people. Saturday was busy, busy, busy. We never went out of town to shop. We bought everything here,” Egerer said. The shop opened at 8 a.m. and stayed open until 9 p.m. “We did not worry about anyone burglarizing the shop,” Trinca said.
To help with the heavy flow of traffic in and out of the shop on Saturdays, their mother went to help their father keep track of customers. During those years, both Trinca shops had helpers. When Sam Trinca died in 1943, his employee Morris Triolo bought the shop. “Daddy had a helper (Marion Amodeo). And, Richard worked with Daddy until he died in 1984,” Egerer said.
“He (Peter Trinca) never really retired; he showed up at the shop and worked when it was busy and went fishing when it wasn’t,” said Richard Trinca.
“I started helping Dad after I went to Korea with the Air Force. I went to Southern Arkansas University in 1957. I worked part time while I was at college to study geology.”
He married Pat Trinca in 1955. After they had the first of their two daughters, Richard Trinca needed more income. “My dad said ‘Stay here until you find what you are looking for.’ He kind of saw I liked it. I stayed. There is no better teacher than your father,” Trinca said.
Peter Trinca died in 1984, and Amodeo died in 1986, leaving Richard Trinca to run the only shoe repair shop in Union County. In recent years he has cut back his time in the shop until he was only open a couple of mornings each week. But, he still used the same machines.
“They are as old as dirt. I kept repairing them because I needed them,” Trinca said.
When an essential machine broke down, he had it repaired.
“The machine sews thick materials. It is for sewing something that shouldn’t be sewn,” he explained. “The repair man flew to El Dorado from St. Louis. I had to pay $700 for his transportation from St. Louis and then $90 per hour,” he said.
The shop has been located for many years at 226 Jefferson in a building that initially served as a bus stop and a cleaners. For several years it remained empty until Trinca bought the shop for his shoe repair shop.
Richard Trinca has sold the facility to El Dorado Festivals and Events with an understanding: “I can stay in the building until the end of the year. But I don’t want to stay the whole time. I am not purchasing any more inventory to repair shoes. I need to get rid of the stuff.”
“I figure I will be there finishing up business through the month of August and maybe one more week,” he said.
Both Pat and Richard agree that clearing out the shop will be a major problem. The attic has accumulated odds and ends for decades.
When he does sell his equipment, he said, “I want to sell it all in one big package deal at a really good price. I don’t know what they are going to do after this year when the dance students want taps put on their shoes. They come separate from the shoes,”
Although the Trincas mentioned ‘sendaway’ shoe repair services, neither knew of another shoe repair shop located in Union County (or all of South Arkansas). And, when Trinca’s Shoe Shop closes in the next couple of weeks, a chapter of more than 90 years of El Dorado history will step into the past.
By JOAN HERSHBERGER For The Sunday News