Working on shoes is in the genes
When Papa Fred Cosentini found out he was to become a baker, it may have changed the future of his entire family.
Cosentini, a young man at the time, didn’t want to be a baker as the Italian government decreed, he wanted to make shoes. So, he moved to America where he began a shoe repair and retail business in Portland.
Papa Cosentini also raised a family, and eventually he passed down the skill of making shoes through his grandchildren, and now to his great grandchild Patrick “Cosmo” Cosentini.
“I guess you can say that [fixing shoes] runs in the blood. It’s one of those dormant genes that must have got me,” joked Cosentini.
Now in its 13th year of operation, Cosmo’s Custom Webbing and Footwerks is renowned with professional skiers around the nation for boot fitting and repair. Pro skiers and snowboarders like Scott Schmidt, Jim Zellers, and many more discovered that Cosmo Cosentini, third generation shoemaker and repair guru, is the man to see for custom fit shoes and boots.
Cosmo can stretch, re-stitch, expand, fill, and resole shoes, heels, pumps, hiking boots, telemark boots, ski boots, and yes, even sandals for a more comfortable fit.
Do his products and services really make a difference? Not only do professional athletes, locals, and clients from around the nation endorse Cosmo’s work, his own grandmother refuses to wear anything other than her custom fit Birkenstock sandals.
“She has really bad bunions,” explained Cosmo.
Located next to Lakehouse Pizza in Tahoe City, Cosmo’s shop was originally focused on webbing repair and powerstrap construction. The velcro power straps serve a variety of purposes, but they are used for extra ankle support with ski boots most often.
“I had over 50 retail orders [for powerstraps], but I got tired of being the bill collector.”
Soon after, Cosmo purchased a hydraulic press, a specialized shoe-fitting chair, and ovens for heating and softening the liners and “orthodoxs” or insoles used to make custom footwear.
In 1990 the latent Cosentini boot fitting genes took over, and Cosmo’s Custom Footwerks was born.
“What makes [boot repair] fun is the folks with really screwed up feet because it takes all the tools and materials I have to make [their boots fit] comfortably,” Cosentini said. “I like the challenge of screwed up feet. That’s why I have so many tools.”
Cosmo has been studying feet for the last 15 years. He has posters and images of feet hanging from the walls of his shop, even a 3-dimensional model of a human foot where he can point out the joints and bones that commonly have problems.
“There is always something new to learn. And there is a lot going on with your feet. You have 26 bones per foot, and 64 muscles and tendons, and basically every nerve in your body ends in your foot.”
The boot and shoe fitting process is no less complicated than the biology. Although genetics may not be responsible for Cosmo’s ability to fix or modify shoes, making a custom insole and liner is a complicated, acquired skill that takes time to master.
Many of Cosmos custom fit procedures take over an hour to complete. Customers begin the process in one of three elevated chairs while Cosmo twists, raises, bends, and inspects each foot. He explains the unique attributes of foot pronation and rotation, as well as describing aspects of foot physiology. Cosmo also points out the areas that may be causing discomfort.
Improper shoe fit can cause more than foot pain. Poor fit can cause excessive stress on joints in your ankles, knees, hips or even your back.
“The older we get the less padding we have on our feet. And feet take a lot of abuse, so it starts adding up,” Cosentini said. “Before you know it your feet are killing you, and you can’t do the things you want to do.”
Cosmo can modify boots in dozens of ways, but the key to properly fit shoes, he says, starts with a good foot bed, such as the orthodoxs he molds through vacuum suction around your foot.
“And you can’t underestimate a good pair of socks. Socks make a huge difference. I went through almost 8 hours of sock school at Phil Oren’s hiking boot clinic. And there’s a lot to socks. So, good socks, good orthodoxs, and a properly fit shoe and it will make a world of difference.
With so much personal customer care, and a “keep working until it fits right” attitude, it’s no wonder Cosmo works only by appointment during winter. He does keep regular summer hours, and it’s one of the few times customers can walk into the shop and talk about services and products at their leisure, or discuss pain which may be attributable to improperly fit shoes and boots.
Cosmo received most of his training on the job, and through seminars given by boot fitters around the nation. He also went to the University of Oregon in the early ’80s.
Not long after, he moved to Tahoe for the first time, and found work as a lift operator for Squaw Valley. He went into debt and moved back to Oregon where he discovered the advantage of custom fit boots working for a ski shop in Beaverton.
There, he met Wendy, his future wife. The two decided to move back to Tahoe, and arrived for good in 1987.
“I came down here about 13 years ago and have been here ever since – straight since ’87.”
Cosmo has been working on boots for the last 15 years and operating his own business for the last decade. He now owns three fitting chairs, a well-developed retail business and a workroom filled with tools.
Additionally, Cosmo and Wendy are now parents, and have two girls, Mia and Geanette.
So far, Cosmo has followed in the footsteps of his great grandfather. It remains to be seen just how strong shoemaking is in the family lineage.
“And I love to cook, but I don’t bake either,” joked Cosmo. “So I guess I got that too.”
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