By Lee Merrill
hidden gem has been humbly shining on Line Avenue for over 70 years. Leone’s Shoe Shop is a tried-and-true place to bring your favorite dress shoes, boots, belts, and purses for repair or polish. Owner Dick Whittington is a man who prefers to let his craftsmanship do the talking, but he took a moment to share a little of the history of Leone’s and how their commitment to fine work has kept them in business for decades.
Behind the counter at Leone’s are dozens of boots, some ready for pick up and others waiting for their turn in capable hands. Along the wall are leather purses and belts. “Frank Leone opened the shop in 1951, a couple doors down, and then moved to this location in the early 70s,” Whittington began. “He sold it in 1978 to the Lyons family, who, lucky for me, decided the shoe business wasn’t for them. My dad helped me, a 19-year-old boy still finding himself, to buy the shop from Bud Lyons in 1980. I didn’t know a thing about working on shoes when I started. I used to practice on shoes people didn’t pick up. Over time, I learned from the guys still working from Leone’s days. They’d been working here longer than I’d been alive, and they helped me along.”
Today, Whittington and his right-hand man, James Raphel, can fix most anything. “James has been with me since 1988. Customers tell me all the time I’m lucky to have him, and I know it. He has a smile and a warm welcome for everyone who comes in.”
When asked what his favorite thing was about working at Leone’s, James Raphel grinned and said, “I have a great boss. We’ve been together a long time. I was 21 when we started working together. After a week or two, I told him I wanted to grow old here, and that’s what we’ve done.”
On the counter is a memorial photo of another important member of the shop family, Donald Washington. “Don started with me in 1988. We had a lot of good years together until Covid took him in 2020. There’s no one who could replace Don,” said Whittington.
The pandemic years prompted Whittington to reduce his hours to four days per week. “We stay pretty busy, but business has been a little off since the pandemic,” said Whittington. “These days, it seems lots of shoes are made to be disposable. Back when I started in this business, Downtown Shreveport had men and women in business suits and polished leather shoes. Shoes that needed to be resoled. It’s a different time now. Sometimes, people bring in shoes I can’t fix because of how they’re made. I’m upfront with my customers when that happens. I won’t take your money if I don’t believe the repairs can be done right.”
Though business is slower than it used to be, Leone’s Shoe Shop continues to be there when people need it. “In a week’s time, I can have three or four generations of a family coming in here for repairs.” When asked why people should choose Leone’s for their repairs, Whittington shrugged and said, “Well, I appreciate those who choose Leone’s. If you need repairs, we will surely try our best to take good care of you.”