Sam’s celebrates six decades of business on Del Mar

Sam Tiberi looks on as Luis Polanco repairs a shoe. Tiberi’s business, Sam’s Shoes, celebrates its 60th anniversary this weekend. Although starting as a shoe repair shop, Sam’s morphed to focus on selling shoes. Photo by Jim Shilander
Sam Tiberi looks on as Luis Polanco repairs a shoe. Tiberi’s business, Sam’s Shoes, celebrates its 60th anniversary this weekend. Although starting as a shoe repair shop, Sam’s morphed to focus on selling shoes. Photo by Jim Shilander

By Jim Shilander

Sam Tiberi has seen a lot in his 60 years on Avenida Del Mar. Hundreds of businesses along the street have come and gone, including most of the businesses that were there when he started Sam’s Shoes in 1953. San Clemente itself has grown to a city of almost 70,000, nearly 20 times its population at the time of his arrival from western Pennsylvania. Tiberi’s business has shifted as well. Tiberi once worked on hundreds of boots at a time from Camp Pendleton Marines, but he has since focused on selling major brand shoes.

“When I first came, the street was almost half-empty,” Tiberi said. “So there was a lot of parking, which we need now. Then they started developing buildings. Fortunately, I was too busy to tell who was doing what, I hardly got out on the street. I went from here to the bank and home.”

Tiberi, who opened at this first location, 150 Avenida Del Mar, on December 7, 1953, said most businesses that arrived have gone away, which he attributes more to his own youth at the time as much as the successes or failures of other businesses.

“The rest of them were not old, but they were middle-aged,” Tiberi said. “They either sold their business, went out of business or they died.”

Tiberi, who left the Navy just before he came to San Clemente, remembered the early years fondly.

“San Clemente was a paradise. You couldn’t have it any better,” he said. “You could leave your doors open and your bicycles on the street. You practically knew everybody’s name. When I started I was just shoe repair. When I took in a repair, I took their name and phone number, and I’d try and memorize it. One woman taught me well. The third time she came in, and I couldn’t remember her name and I was embarrassed. She said ‘Remember, Sam, you cut your finger, so you bled, so.’ Her name was Mrs. Bledsoe and I never forgot it.”

Other highlights of the early days included the original San Clemente fiestas at what would become Max Berg Park, as well as Tiberi playing with his own dance band.

“To be lucky enough to come here and then raise my family here has been a super bonus,” Tiberi said. “It’s still great, but it’s a different kind of great than then.”

Early on, when he was just focused on shoe repair, Tiberi would work on boots of entire Marine companies.

“I rented a house on Granada, behind the store,” he said. “When the Marines started bringing them, they would dump the shoes in the garage. I didn’t have enough room, so I would go get 20 pairs, take them down and fix them, take those up and get 20 more.”

Those storage issues eventually led to finding a larger space. Tiberi’s business moved twice during his first five years, before settling into its current spot at 135 Avenida Del Mar in 1963.

IMG_9401Tiberi has three children and two step-children. All of them have, at some point, worked in the store. In the early days, his father, also a shoe repairman, came out to San Clemente to help when things got busy.

“It’s been great. As they got older, I think each one asked if they could come in,” Tiberi said. “We’ve had a few little misunderstandings but nothing you can hang your hat on. They’ve been great kids and great workers. I think that’s one of the successes. It’s really been a good, old-fashioned American family business.”

While son Larry Tiberi and step-son Mike Walker now run the store day-to-day, Tiberi is still active. He comes in three times a week to look at the books and “see if there are any fires to put out.” While the repair side of the business is not what it once was, he still has a pair of brothers, Giovanni and Luis Polanco, who run the repair end of the business.

Sam’s will celebrate its anniversary with a ribbon cutting event at 10 a.m. Saturday, December 7, followed by a reception. Another celebration will be held Wednesday, December 11 at 8 a.m. at Casa Romantica.

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comments (1)

  • We moved to San Clemente in 1976 and remember this icon business on Del Mar Street. Sometime in the late 1988 I went in to purchase a pair of dress shoes and the sales clerk (I think it was a family member of Sam’s) recommended I have a thin hard rubber protective cover placed on the bottom of the leather soled shoes. I was starting an outside sales position (automobile business) and would be on the asphalt all day. After wearing them just 1 day, my feet hurt so bad that I went back to the store to get an exchange. Now, mind you, I was just 18 at the time and it was probably my first pair of dress shoes so, I didn’t know they would probably break in and become more comfortable after time. To my absolute shock, I was treated VERY RUDELY by that same clerk! He told me no refunds or exchanges because the shoe had been altered. Remember it was HIS suggestion to have the sole protectors placed on! He didn’t even so much as offer to stretch the shoes, or help with my concerns. He basically just tossed me out and I vowed I would never come back. Looking back, it was probably an up sell that he got a commission on but, he refused to work with me in the slightest and I left for home with that uncomfortable pair of shoes that I paid good money for only to never wear again. Sam, I am 46 years old now and still live in the area with my family. To date, I have bought 10’s of thousands of dollars worth of shoes but, none of them unfortunately came from your store. It was all because of that rude employee. Even after all these years, I still vividly remember how poorly I was treated. Let this be a lesson to anybody in business. Sometimes, the customer IS right.

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