Downstairs shoe-repair hopes for an upside

shoe shop, Jose Ledezma
Alex Kariyev, right, and his wife Zina at their Star Shoe & Watch shop on Bleecker St. Photos by Gabe Herman

BY GABE HERMAN | Alex Kariyev has owned the Star Shoe & Watch shop for 19 years, but in the past two, business has slowed considerably.

The store, at 74 Bleecker St., between Broadway and Lafayette St., moved downstairs five years ago. But Kariyev, 66, said business was still going strong for the first three.

“Probably a lot of people moved from the area,” he offered. “For some reason, it got slow.”

He also noted that fewer people get shoe repairs these days, or shoeshines, which was a thriving business but now is at a crawl.

“Today’s generation is not fixing shoes, probably — not like before,” he said. “They buy through the Internet. They throw it away.”

The store’s entrance is a set of stairs going underground.

Kariyev was in the shop on a recent weekday afternoon with his wife Zina and longtime employee Jose Ledezma. Ledezma has worked in the shop since 1987, back when his father owned it.

Kariyev noted there used to be four shoeshine seats, but he cut it to two. He once had a full-time shoeshine employee when demand was higher.

Owner Alex Kariyev admits some customers are a little hesitant to go down the stairs.

He said that watch repair still does good business, including changing a lot of watch batteries, but that is slowing down, too.

“We need business,” Zina said.

“Support from the community,” Kariyev added.

One longtime customer is Bo Riccobono, a member of Community Board 2, on which he is vice chairperson of the Economic Development and Small Business Committee. Riccobono said he started going to Star Shoe & Watch for shoeshines, though he now mostly wears sneakers.

“I’ve gone there many times for watches, just to replace a battery or something,” he said. “It’s very handy.”

Longtime customer Bo Riccobono poses for a shoeshine by Alex Kariyev. Shoeshines used to be a booming business, but have been tapering off.

But he noted that the stairs leading down to the shop can be intimidating for those unfamiliar with the business. It looks unclear where the stairs lead and one might wonder how safe it will be. Once downstairs, however, the space is well lit and has a comfortable feel.

A new landlord, who took over the building seven years ago, wanted more upscale retail, Riccobono noted. But Kariyev was able to stay by moving his shop to the lower level for less rent.

“He’s a good landlord, gave me an opportunity to stay here,” Kariyev said. “I like this area.”

These boots were made for Walken. … Actor Christopher Walken used to be a customer of the Star Shoe & Watch in the 1970s when it was owned by the father of current employee Jose Ledezma. The cat also belonged to Ledezma’s dad.

He and Zina moved to America in 1979 from Tashkent, Uzbekistan. They are Orthodox Bukharan Jews, and Kariyev isn’t in the store on Saturdays and leaves early on Fridays. They live in Queens and have three children and 14 grandkids.

Kariyev bought the shop in 2000 from Ledezma’s father, who was in poor health. The shop was at 60 Bleecker St. on the ground floor going back 80 years, and spanning several owners, he said.

Jose Ledezma with the Christopher Walken photo.

Kariyev wants to advertise more but has run into issues. The street is landmarked, as part of the Noho Historic District. He was fined $3,000 recently for putting out a sign on the street that was not approved by the Landmarks Preservation Commission, which must approve a sign’s colors, size and location.

“It’s not that it’s bad to have landmarks, but it’s another factor that a small business owner has to deal with,” Riccobono said.

Kariyev’s lease is for another four years, but he might retire after that.

“I want to see what’s going to happen,” he said. “A lot of offices are closing.

“Everybody complains, says, ‘Where are the small businesses?’” Riccobono said. “And people often say, ‘Where am I going to get my shoes done, there’s no more shoemakers.’ Here, there’s one right here.”

Kariyev then added about the downstairs location, “But they have to find us.”