PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. (WJHG) - Shoes are the heart and “sole” of their Panama City Beach business, and for five generations, they’ve cobbled together quite the storied past. Stephen Bonanno and his 23-year-old son Anthony are carrying on a more than 100-year family tradition.
Stephen and Anthony Bonanno are fourth and fifth generation cobblers who are carrying on the family tradition in Panama City Beach. (WJHG)
“Every pair of shoes I make, I try to put my soul into,” said Anthony. “I actually grew up sleeping in the leather bins of my family's factory.”
“I've been doing it so long and it's amazing that I actually still love doing this,” said Stephen, who has cobbled for more than 40 years.
Anthony’s great-great-grandfather started the business in New York before his grandfather moved it to West Palm Beach in South Florida.
“I got into it because I loved watching my dad do this art and I've always been someone that likes to create stuff myself,” said Anthony.
They opened up their shop, Dixie Shoe Repair, in the Panhandle just after Hurricane Michael.
“The next shoe repair shop that I know of is all the way in Tallahassee,” said Anthony.
Anthony was recently living in New York and in another line of work when destiny came calling.
“I called him and I was like, 'Dad, I want to get back into shoe repair. I've been missing it. I love it. This is just what I want to do with my life,'” said Anthony.
“Since they were kids, I always wanted one of them to come in and take over the shop," said Stephen. "So when he called me and said he was excited about doing it, I was ecstatic about it. And I just was like, yeah, come on, let's do this.”
So why shoes?
“Every day I get into the shop, I get a new pair of shoes that is just a new puzzle to figure out and a new thing to fix,” said Anthony.
“You look at the finished product and go, 'Wow! I did that!'" said Stephen. "And the customer goes, 'Wow!' And you go, 'Wow!' You know, it's exciting.”
So it’s Anthony’s business now.
“He does a great job running this place," said Stephen. "But yeah, obviously, I'm always gonna have something to say.”
And the respect Anthony has for his dad and mentor is as strong as the bond they share.
“The amount of tricks you will learn from him is just the most amazing thing to see, honestly,” said Anthony. “We have a lot of camaraderie in here. We mess with each other, you know, we play around but it's also serious work.”
Anthony’s forte is making sandals and with a little help from his stepmom, he turns leather into functional art.
“This is what I got into making when I was a little kid," said Anthony, holding up a finished sandal. "This is our real work of art that we make here. This is what we pour everything into. This is what we love to do.”
Anthony says they can do just about anything with leather and will even make sandals out of other materials you bring in like old handbags or fabric. And of course, they shine shoes.
His family once made a pair of sandals for Jackie Kennedy and another huge celebrity.
“Oprah ordered a pair of our sandals," said Anthony." She wore them on her show, and we blew up again around 2004, 2005.”
And while Oprah may not wear any with college logos, you may.
“We have FSU, UF, Alabama, and then we can even do yacht clubs [and] golf courses,” said Anthony.
And speaking of courses, the Bonannos plan to stay the course until the shine has lost its luster.
"The family that sews together grows together,” said a smiling Anthony.
For more on Dixie Shoe Repair, click here.
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