By Maricela Gomez
Oscar Navarro wants to save your sole. His religion is a perfectly fitted shoe. His church is Capri Shoes.
Capri Shoes opened in 1963 as a repair shop on Brookhurst Road in Fullerton under original owner David Dakos. But behind the successful shoe repairing business was a young man who planned to walk Capri shoes to unforeseeable heights. In 1980, Oscar Navarro, a second generation shoemaker from Mexico came to the United States at 20 years old to work with his father at Capri Shoes as a shoe repairman – as requested by Dakos.
After 12 years, Navarro bought the business after Dakos’ retirement. In 2003, Capri Shoes relocated to downtown Fullerton, where it celebrated its 50th anniversary last March. A Fullerton Foundry article reported on the event and wrote that the Fullerton community, Chamber of Commerce and family members surrounded the business with congratulating messages of continuous prosperity.
But there’s more to the beige vintage shoe place stroked with red lines on the corner of Fullerton’s Malden and Commonwealth avenues. Under Navarro’s leadership, Capri Shoes became more than a repair shop, it became a place that crafted and customized sandals and shoes. Capri Shoes manufactures most zany clown shoes, curled elf boots and ballroom-esque heels that clutch onto performer’s feet in entertainment productions.
For more than 19 years, Capri has worked closely with costume designers and performers from theatre, film and entertainment companies such as Knott’s Berry Farm, MGM Studios, Medieval Times, The Blue Man Group (New York, Boston, Orlando and Chicago) and Fullerton Civic Light Opera.
Navarro’s passion surpasses the difficulty on crafting client’s customized shoe requests. Nothing is too extreme for Navarro. “I’m a creative person so I always welcome new challenges…I like to play with different materials, different textures discovering new things…and I just love it, so it’s not really a job for me,” Navarro said.
He engages in time-consuming projects that undergo specific procedures for a successful product. “There are projects that have taken me months, three to four months to develop. It’s a process. You start with the shoe last, which takes the dimension of the foot, and then you start designing over that,” Navarro said. “Then you take patterns and then you cut and put together and then you do some testing.”
The overwhelming occupation is fun for Navarro. He works with his wife, daughter Veronica and son Oscar Jr., who is Navarro’s ideal candidate in becoming Capri Shoes’ future owner. Navarro also said several nephews, brothers and staff members represent the Capri Shoes demographic. But Navarro admits it’s tough searching for people who are committed and interested in shoemaking.
“The biggest obstacle is finding the right people…it’s a dying art…you don’t see kids that want to be a shoe maker, they want to do something else.” Navarro said.
The dying art becomes difficult to teach newcomers due to the experimental changes within the craft. “And even to train people, it’s not easy…there’s always new material, new shoes…it’s a fashion world too so they’re also constantly playing with different material, different soles, different heels…so you kinda have to keep up with all of that,” Navarro said.
Despite the minor obstacle, Capri has a loyal and committed shoemaking craft. “When I took over the business, I still have… about three to four people that have been with me for 18 to 20 years,” Navarro said.
And where does the shoe crafting take place? At Capri Shoe’s production room. Here, employees including Navarro work in different areas of shoe manufacturing. Several workers applied paint onto the shoes, sewed the shoe’s seams, altered the shoe’s measurements and design, repaired torn shoes and produced handmade shoes.
After leading a tour of the Capri Shoes facility, Navarro showed the diverse retail shoe collection with orthopedic brands from Springstep, Aetrex, Birkenstock. Capri also carries handmade leather bags and shoe products.
Capri Shoe’s customized footwear participates in the exhibition, with hopes of sparking the client’s ideas for personal leather shoe customization. Ideas vary from trendy and regenerated designs; including the infamous clown shoe. Clown clients usually come to Capri Shoes with outrageous shoe-stopping designs destined for creation.
“I had a clown lady that used to compete in Las Vegas every year, they have a clown convention actually around November.” Navarro said. “For a while, she was requesting these crazy shoes for competitions.”
The smell of authentic leather drifts throughout the store revealing the authentic leather merchandise. The Capri products are handmade in America with high quality leather, a diverse spectrum of color, fabrics and different textures. Navarro said that prices vary on shoe restoration and customization, relying on the level of difficulty and time on the project. “It’s labor intense and you better have the passion for it,” Navarro jokingly said.
Shoe repairs range from $12-85 and customized shoes start from $550. Capri Shoes crafts leather shoes precisely to a customer’s size, form, comfort and personal style with a technological footwear assessment known as istep.
“I think we are a unique store…we combine not just custom shoes with shoe repair and retail, but we also do a lot of leather goods, repairs and creations. And I basically don’t know how to say no to anything and since I love the challenges that make it very unique. You don’t find that many stores or shoe repairs,” Navarro said. “We’ve been around for 50 years and we have a reputation to look after, so we try our best.
Capri Shoes – Professional Footwear Products and Services.
140 W. Commonwealth Ave.