‘Freddie The Shoemaker’ Dies
Alfred Sforza Sr., whose career spanning nearly 80 years in the shoe repair business earned him the nickname “Freddie the Shoemaker” and established him as a larger-than-life link to Huntington Station’s brightest years, has died following a sudden illness, his family said.
Sforza Sr., of Huntington Station, died Sunday at age 99 after a brief battle with pancreatic cancer. His son Alfred Sforza Jr. said the family discovered Sforza Sr.’s cancer after his father fell earlier this month.
“It was a real big shock,” he said.
Best known to locals as “Freddie the Shoemaker,” Sforza Sr. was honored this fall as a grand marshal at this year’s Huntington Awareness Day alongside Golden Gloves boxer Charlie Gumbs, a Huntington native, who died Jan. 4.
Wherever he went, Sforza Sr., also referred to by many as the “mayor of Huntington Station,” ensured his shoe repair shop was a hub for the community – a place for debating politics over coffee and bagels in the morning; a place for cops to warm up in the winter and get a shoeshine.
Barber Neil Annuziato, who first met Sforza Sr. when they were neighboring business owners in Huntington Station more than 50 years ago, said Wednesday that his old friend was a well-liked man who was entrenched in the community.
“He was quite a guy – a real nice guy,” Annuziato, who shared a storefront with Sforza Sr. until about a year ago, said. “He would do almost anything for you. He was very well-liked because he was straightforward.”
Town Clerk Jo-Ann Raia, who first became a client of Sforza Sr. in the early 1960s as a young executive, recalled his quick wit and sharp mind.
“It was amazing how he ran his shop. You never got a receipt for your shoes. He would put some kind of a number on the back of the shoe as to what had to be done, and he put them on the shelf,” she said. “I’m sure he treated everybody else the same way… I would come in for my shoes and I would say, ‘navy blue,’ and he would say, ‘I know, I know,’ and go directly to the shoes and give me the shoes. It was amazing how he handled that.”
Sforza Sr. was born July 13, 1914 in Brooklyn. His first introduction to Huntington Station was through frequent summertime visits to his sister’s home. But when his brother-in-law Mike Aurricchio died suddenly in February 1934, however, his sister asked him to come to Huntington Station to run his shoe-repair business.
So a month later, Freddie’s Shoe Repair was born at 1157 New York Ave. Later, when the building was sold, he moved a few doors down to 1169 New York Ave., where he remained through 1966. Then, urban renewal resulted in the leveling much of Huntington Station, and he relocated his shop to 308 New York Ave. in Huntington village, where he shared space with Annuziato.
Staying active at the shop was good for Freddie, his son Alfred Sforza, Jr. said in September.
“He goes down there to see everybody,” Sforza Jr. said at the time. “Just to be there, go back and forth. He’s a people person.”
Sforza Sr. was also known for his generous spirit. During World War II, the shop, filled with photos of Huntington’s fighting men, became a virtual shrine to the men overseas and a place to get updates about their efforts. One of his favorite turns of phrase, his son said, was “no charge.”
The shop also was the setting for a love connection. Lena Bifulco came into the store to have her pocketbook fixed in 1934, and Sforza Sr. was smitten. They were married Nov. 29, 1936. They were wed for nearly 72 years when she died in September 2008.
Another great love was baseball. Sforza Sr. managed a local softball team and would often dash off to Manor Field to play a pick-up game. He was a diehard Brooklyn Dodgers fan and rejoiced when they beat the Yankees in the 1955 World Series; however, he never forgave them for moving to Los Angeles, his son said, and switched to rooting for the Mets instead.
In addition to his son, Sforza Sr. is survived by his grandchildren, Dr. Anthony Sforza and wife Jennifer, Debra Smith and her husband Peter, and Sharon Buehrig and husband Phill; and six great-grandchildren.
Visitation is today, Jan. 30 from 7-9 p.m. and Friday from 2-4 and 7-9 p.m. at M.A Connell Funerar Home, 934 New York Ave., Huntington Station. A 9:30 a.m. funeral Mass will be celebrated Saturday at St. Patrick’s Church in Huntington, where Sforza Sr. was an usher for more than 50 years.
Sforza Jr. said the outpouring of support has been gratifying, and that his family has been “inundated” with phone calls since Sunday.
“It’s nice to know that people felt that way about him,” he said.