Davide Santi: The Legacy Artisan
It’s one hour past opening. An older gentleman with a heavy stride crosses the entryway and thumps a crinkled, brown paper bag on the counter. Resting his pliers atop the wooden island at the center of the shop – a craftsman’s workstation –Davide Santi greets the gentleman with a familiar “Ciao! Come stai?”
Davide pulls a pair of brown leather loafers from the bag, inspecting the shoes 360 degrees. At the bottom of each shoe, he pauses and runs his hand along the leather — toe to arch to heel. The gentleman eyes Davide with tense anticipation. Davide studies the shoes a few moments more before scribbling a price and pick-up date in a tear-off receipt book and handing the gentleman his copy of the receipt. The older gentleman mumbles in Italian. “Good as new when Zante is done,” he says as he accepts his receipt with relief.
Five kilometers outside of Cagli is Acqualagna, Italy, Davide runs and operates Zante’s Calzolaio, the town’s shoe repair shop. Actually, Zante’s Calzolaio is one of the only shoemakers for many towns in the Marche region. “Fifteen years ago, there were four or five shops here in Acqualagna, about 10 or so in Cagli,” Davide says.
Why Zante’s remains open while similar shops close could be attributed to any of several reasons. Perhaps the most-poignant reason for Zante Calzolaio’s endurance is not a change at all, but rather a constant – legacy and passion.
Davide’s soul is woven into the soles of the boots, stilettos, and sandals that walk through his shop. A third-generation shoemaker, Davide’s destiny was stitched and sewn before his birth. “I did woodwork and even made boxes for cigars shipped to America when I was a teenager. But those things I did on the side,” Davide says with a laugh. “There was always this. I always knew I wanted to craft shoes. I was born fixing shoes.”
Shoemaking is in Davide’s blood. In 1913, his grandfather opened the original store and gave birth to a living legacy. After building up the business, Davide’s grandfather taught his son the art and eventually taught Davide as well – all on the 150-year-old sewing machine stationed in Davide’s workroom that hums in the evenings when he hand makes shoes at home.
“You don’t count hours,” says Davide, his words reverberating off the metal plate as he strikes a stiletto with a hammer. For him, his work is not measured by how many hours he dedicates to repairing shoes. “I’m proud to see something I have fixed… made with my hands.”
In one week, Davide is opening a new shop, but the new shop is not actually new. Blocks away from the current shop, Davide is renovating the shop where he first learned the art of making shoes from his grandfather and father. Surrounded by memories of his grandfather and father, Davide will continue the legacy of shoemaking, an art he says few people can do. And while the locals traveling from several towns over to Zante’s indicate that Davide is a well-respected artisan, he will tell you he’s still learning.
“This kind of work is beautiful because you always learn,” he says. “It’s like a culture, always adding to it.”
The art of making shoes is the gift of a rare few. When he considers his future, Davide says, “It’s too hard to predict the future, but, hopefully, I do this forever.”