After 95 years of family ownership, Stephen Fontana ’79 former owner of Fontanas Shoe Sales and Repair, “the oldest surviving business in Collegetown,” sold the shop to local Ithacan Shawn Manning last April.
Fontana, the owner of several Collegetown apartments and properties that house Club Sudz, PLAY and Souvlaki House among other businesses, decided last September to sell the shoe store he had bought 20 years ago from his father Caesar Fontana. Due to the pressure of handling both the shoe store and Collegetown real estate, Fontana said he was working more than 70 hours a week and it had become difficult to balance his family life and work.
“It was like having finals week 40 to 45 weeks of the year,” Fontana said.
Prior to the April transaction, Fontana and Manning had worked together closely for nine years at the shoe store. Manning held the position of store manager, spending the eight months prior to April preparing for the role of owner under Fontana’s supervision.
“It’s challenging and exciting at the same time,” Manning said about his new role as store owner.
Manning began working full time at Fontana’s in 1993.
On the side, he attended Tompkins Cortland Community College (TC3) where he acquired a degree in business administration. Prior to becoming store owner, he was involved in all aspects of the business including marketing, customer service and sales, according to Manning.
Fontana called Manning “exceptional.” Manning said that he has been running the store in the same manner that Fontana had, employing the same staff and carrying the same brands and fashions since April.
“You can expect the same quality and service that we’ve always had,” Manning said. “If there’s a defect or a problem, we’ll always work it out for the customer.”
One student who was unaware of the ownership change and had recently purchased shoes at Fontana’s said she was “very satisfied” with the store’s policies.
“[The store] replaced a pair of Steve Madden sandals for no charge because the straps on the pair I bought had fallen off,” said Christina Poon ’04.
Daniel F. Tavan ’04 had a similar experience at Fontana’s when he needed to replace a shoelace for his dress shoes.
“They did a rush job for me in 10 minutes because I had to go to class. It would have taken other shoe stores until the next day to get the job done.”
When Fontana’s was first established in 1907 by Cesare Fontana, it was a “shack” equipped only with hand tools. Cesare Fontana, a shoemaker, immigrated from Italy in 1905 and worked as a laborer and bricklayer on the construction of Bailey Hall for two years until he saved enough money to start a shoe repair shop. The original business stood on College Avenue where Fleet Bank now stands, but in 1923 the store moved to its present location at 401 Eddy Street.
Since then, Cesare’s son Alfredo Fontana, grandson Caesar and great-grandson Stephen managed and operated the store until last April when Manning acquired the business. The store will keep the name Fontana’s.
Archived article by Janet Liao