RUSKIN – Jeffrey Corniello has a foot fetish of sorts. The fourth generation Italian cobbler’s passion is helping others walk correctly and comfortably, even when their health issues might dictate otherwise.
As a board-certified, national- and state-licensed pedorthist, Corniello fills prescriptions for foot doctors and orthopaedic surgeons. He builds or modifies shoes for patients with diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, post-surgery needs, edema, leg-length discrepancies and more.
“When a patient’s foot requires medical attention, his footwear becomes a factor in his treatment, recovery or rehabilitation,” said Corniello, 52. “The doctor and I work as a team. He or she treats the foot, and I address the shoe, insert or any modifications that are needed.”
As owner of The Shoe Lab, 1201 First St. SW, Ruskin, Corniello has helped thousands of people over the years. For him, that’s what his job is about.
“I like my work because we help people by relieving pain, balancing their gait and helping avoid amputation,” he said. “It’s very rewarding to be able to do that.”
It’s a passion his customers appreciate.
“I love this place,” said Margaret Diehl of Ruskin during a recent visit to have her sandals stretched to accommodate bunions. “I can buy good, comfortable shoes here, and they do really good repair work.”
Kings Point resident Marty Helveston agrees.
“(Corniello) has repaired my shoes as long as I’ve lived here,” said Helveston, who wears a brace on one of his legs. “He’s made lifts, soles and heels for me for many years. I’ve never had a problem with any of his work.”
Corniello never intended to become a cobbler.
“I did everything else for awhile,” he said, laughing. “I even worked as a Chippendale for a week.”
Even his father wanted him to do something other than follow in the family’s footsteps.
“He once owned three shops and was proud of his work, but he considered the job menial in some ways,” Corniello said. “But eventually he relented and taught me the business, when I was 25.”
The Shoe Lab is not the traditional shoe store. Service is completely personalized and most of the shoes it sells are for folks with specific foot problems or hard-to-fit sizes. Its staff also repairs boots, luggage and other leather goods, including purses, bags, belts, skirts and boat covers.
“I can take any shoe and modify it for any need for any foot,” he said, adding he makes custom shoes for men, women and children and can make any old shoe look new.
In addition to owning and operating The Shoe Lab, Corniello is a subcontractor for the James A. Haley V.A. Hospital in Tampa. There he works with patients who have all kinds of foot conditions and disabilities on his own for the past 10.
Corniello also believes in giving back. Until shipping costs became prohibitive he was involved in a national effort to recycle shoes for people in need. Now he accepts old shoes from the public, repairs and renews them, and then gives them to local churches or nonprofit groups like Mary & Martha House.
Corniello said he’d like to pass the trade on to his children, provided any of them are interested.
“It would be sad if there was no one left to do this,” he said. “There’s a lot of need out there.”
The Shoe Lab is open Tuesday through Friday from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
For more information, call (813) 645-5800 or visit www.myshoelab.com.