What Did That Building Used to Be? St. Elmo Shoe Shop

Sunday, January 3, 2016 - by Harmon Jolley

Being a tourist gateway to the Lookout Mountain attractions, the St. Elmo business district today has several nice restaurants and shops for visitors.  In years past, the district had businesses which primarily catered to residents.  There was Incline Drugs which had a large 3D neon mortar-and-pestle as its signage.  Incline Hardware, Mrs. J.E. Jones Grocery, Redford’s 5-and-10-cent Store, and Zahnd’s Dry Goods were shoppers’ delights.  A barber and a physician each took care of needs of the community.  For many years Frank A. Lombardo, proprietor of the St. Elmo Shoe Shop, crafted and repaired leather items.

Frank Lombardo spent his early years in Sandusky, Ohio but lived most of his life in Chattanooga.  His wife was also from Sandusky.  They married in 1936.

When Mr. Lombardo was sixteen, he worked for a statuary shop run by Z. Stefano Giulano and helped to carve the eagle statues that are located at Eagles Nest (http://www.hikelookout.org/trails/eagles.php), an interesting site near the Ruby Falls parking lot.

Mr. Lombardo also was a musician in his younger years, playing the saxophone and clarinet.

He and his father had a shoe shop on Main Street prior to moving to St. Elmo.  The Lombardos had a shop near the Incline Restaurant, then in 1948 moved into a new building at 3815 St. Elmo Avenue.  The business was originally called the St. Elmo Shoe Hospital, but was renamed to St. Elmo  Shoe Shop after Mr. Lombardo tired of receiving prank calls asking if it was a real hospital.

I recall visiting the shoe shop several times with my father when we lived in St. Elmo.  The aroma of leather and polish greeted each visitor.  It was striking to see how many tools, machines, and leather items were packed into such a small building.  Mr. Lombardo would be busy working, and would tell us “Be right with you” as he worked towards a stopping point on repairing an item.

Frank Lombardo gave back to his community by teaching leather craftsmanship to students at Lookout Jr. High in St. Elmo and at Howard.

A feature article in the March 27, 1988 Chattanooga News-Free Press provided readers with photographs and narrative of Frank Lombardo and his work.  In addition to repairing shoes, he also was an artist who crafted leather into pictures and portraits.  He used a Newsweek cover photo of President Dwight D. Eisenhower as reference for a portrait tooled in leather.  President Eisenhower thanked him in a signed letter on White House stationery.

Originally planning to retire in 1988, Frank Lombardo kept his shop open until 1991.  His daughters had been helping with operation of the business.  Throwaway shoes on the market, high cost of materials, and failing eyesight led to his decision to retire.  He was 76 years old when he closed business for the final time.  Frank Lombardo passed away on August 7, 2002.

Other businesses have since occupied the space of the former shoe shop.  St. Elmo’s Fire, Mojo Burrito, and most recently, Finders Keeper, have done business there.

Source information for this article came from Mr. Lombardo’s obituary, the aforementioned Chattanooga News-Free Press article, information shared by Frannie Narramore (one of Mr. Lombardo’s daugters), and my personal recollection of the business.

If you have memories of the St. Elmo Shoe Shop, please e-mail me at jolleyh@bellsouth.net.  I’ll update this article with some of your memories.

Memories of Readers

Mr Lombardo also repaired and re-strung our baseball gloves. He also helped with our cleats. Often for free or material cost only!

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