There’s no business like shoe business
Cavelli’s marks 100 years in shoe repair, leather goods
HOPEWELL — Many people have passed by Oak Square shopping center on Oaklawn Boulevard in Hopewell and noticed the two big business landmarks of Bojangles' and Little Caesar’s. However, there is a business that’s about 100 years old in Oak Square that originally began on Sycamore Street in Petersburg.
That business is called Cavelli’s. If it has to do with shoes or leather, Cavelli’s can help, according to owner Don Arpaia, who was born and raised in Hopewell and graduated from Hopewell High School in 1982.
“We repair shoes, still. We’re still a shoe repair place, that’s our main thing," Arpaia said. "But I make other things like gun holsters and trifold wallets. We hand cut, hand dye, and we can put your initials on it. It’s always been a hit and we do those every Christmas. We still make ring belts, and they’re popular
because they last practically forever.
“I enjoy the repair work end of things, taking an old shoe and fixing it up, making it like a new shoe,” he added.
Besides shoes, Cavelli’s repairs luggage, coats, jackets, bags and zippers on just about anything. “We repair leather coats, clean them, condition them and dye them,” Arpaia explained. In addition, he said, “We hand-clean things. They get dry and ashy from the winter and the heat. That leather is drying out if you’re drying out.”
Cavelli's also offers leather motorcycle apparel. For veterans and first responders, the
shop also has an extensive collection of military and patriotic patches and pins.
The business began with Arpaia’s grandfather, who immigrated from Italy and taught math and music at Virginia Military Institute in Lexington. But he was also a cobbler and operated a part-time shoe repair business. His two sons (Arpaia’s father and uncle) learned the family trade and applied it to work for a Mr. Cavelli who had a business in Petersburg.
“It originated on Sycamore Street in Petersburg,” said Arpaia. “That was the owner’s last name, Cavelli. My uncle went to work with him.”
Cavelli later retired and sold the business to Arpaia’s uncle. Arpaia's father inherited the business on his brother's
death, and he eventually handed the reins to his son.
“He started me in there when I was 15, and I’m 55 now,” said Arpaia. “That’s a long time to be in one place.”
Cavelli’s changed locations a couple more times before it found its present home in Oak Square.
“We used to be in Cavalier Square,” said Arpaia. “Then we moved to the Crossings for 10 years, and now we’re in Oak Square, which I hope will be the final location. I’m not planning on moving.”
Asked what still excites him after 40 years with Cavelli’s, Arpaia responded, “I enjoy what I’m doing. I enjoy doing the work. Seeing what the people need and spending time with them. I don’t enjoy the paperwork,
computer, internet, the business end of it, though.”
And it’s still a family business, though Arpaia’s children have other plans. “My mother still works here part time. She works twice a week.”
Asked how the business is faring in light of big stores like Walmart and the rise of internet businesses, Arpaia said, “It’s been good. It’s had its ups and down like every other small business. We’re still hanging in there and still around. We’ve got a lot of regulars that come in here, which helps quite a bit.”
A lifelong resident of Hopewell who married his high school sweetheart, Cathy, Arpaia explained his loyalty to the city: “I still love Hopewell. We still have that hometown feel.
There are still a lot of nice restaurants and local shops, the original shops: K&L, Quick Lunch, McCay’s Hardware, Heretick Feed and Seed. It’s still that hometown feel.”
In his free time, “I hunt and fish,” said Arpaia, a black powder hunting fan currently waiting on a particular deer or two (a 12-pointer and a 10-pointer) spotted on his trail camera. “Hunting, fishing … Love them. And I work. That’s all I do. Never stop, never sit down, even at home.”
He added that he keeps up on the maintenance of his house and all of his family’s cars. “When you have junk, you’re always working on it.”
So what’s in store for Cavelli’s? “I just hope we’re still here and going well,” said Arpaia.
Don Arpaia hammers the sole of a shoe into place in the maze-like, spaceoptimized workshop at the back of Cavelli’s Leather Shop & Shoe Repair in Hopewell.