Ruskin cobbler helps folks, one sole at a time

Board-certified and state-licensed pedorthist Jeffrey Corniello tries placing a custom-made insert into a size 20 specialty shoe. LOIS KINDLE PHOTOS

By LOIS KINDLE

It isn’t easy for 71-year-old John Naponick to find good shoes. That became especially difficult when the 6-foot-10-inch Cambodian resident injured his toe in January.

A college athlete and former professional football player, Naponick was born in Pittsburgh, earned a medical degree and specialized in obstetrics and gynecology. He tried to treat the injured toe himself, but when it wouldn’t heal, he decided to seek care in the United States, where he is covered by Medicare and a supplement.

Naponick came to stay in Sun City Center with a friend he worked with in the Cambodian refugee camps in 1979. She referred him to a local podiatrist.

As his toe began to heal, the doctor sent Naponick to pedorthist Jeffrey Corniello for shoes and orthotic inserts to accommodate his injury and size-20 foot.

Corniello, owner of The Shoe Lab, is a fourth-generation Italian cobbler who’s worked in his field for most of his 55 years. The board-certified and state-licensed pedorthist opened the shop in Ruskin seven years ago.

In addition to repairing all types of leather goods, Corniello fills shoe, brace and insert prescriptions for podiatrists and orthopedic surgeons. He specializes in helping people who have foot issues walk in comfort and correctly. He also makes or modifies shoes for patients with a variety of medical conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis, edema, diabetes and more.

“He’s as patient as the Buddha,” Naponick said. “He provides good service, listens, is easy to talk with and delivers his products on time.”

Shoemaker Luis Paez, a Cuban native, shapes a custom shoe insert in one of the workrooms at The Shoe Lab in Ruskin.

It’s all in a day’s work for Corniello.

“I love what I do and enjoy both the creative and clinical aspects of the job,” he said. “It’s a combination of my family’s history as cobblers, which began in the 1800s with my great-grandfather, and my desire to help people.”

While Corniello carries and sells some new products, his primary business is fitting folks who have medical needs or special sizes.

“I can make custom shoes for men, women and children and can modify any shoe,” he said. “The smallest shoe I ever made was a size 4 and the largest, 20. The widest was a 14E.”

His business also offers repair for all kinds of leather goods, including luggage, purses, belts and more.

John Naponick, a 6-foot-10-inch retired physician now living in Cambodia, holds up his new size-20 shoe from The Shoe Lab in Ruskin.

Corniello has been a subcontractor “for about 20 years” at the James A. Haley Veterans Administration Hospital in Tampa, where he works with patients with foot problems and disabilities.

Always one to give back to the community, his latest effort is collecting gently used shoes to help low-income veterans for the Society of St. Vincent de Paul South Pinellas Supportive Services for Veteran Families Program, an effort funded through a United States Department of Veterans Affairs grant.

For additional information on the program, call 844-455-7783 or visit www.svdpsp.org/ssvf/.

For more information on The Shoe Lab or to donate some shoes, call 813-645-5800 or stop by 1201 First St. SW, Ruskin, between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday through Friday or 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday.

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