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San Clemente Journal

The House that Sam Built

Apr 02, 2014 07:58PM ● By Don Kindred

Sam’s Shoes 1960.

by Donia Moore

Sam Tiberi is a “big” man. He tops out over six feet tall, but that’s not the only type of “big” description that fits Sam. He is also big in talent, big in determination, big in work ethic, big in sense of humor, and biggest of all – big in heart. Just ask his five children and seven grandchildren. 

Larry, Mike and Steve all work in the store with Sam who, at 82 years young, still comes into the store a couple of days a week. Ron and daughter Paula, a nurse, are not far away. 
Sam’s Shoes is the house that Sam built 60-years-ago in San Clemente. The store started out as a small repair shop for the Marines’ “boondockers” (the original name for the boots Marines wore in the 1950s) at 150 Avenida Del Mar. It moved three more times over the years until Sam found its current home at 135 Avenida Del Mar. The store now offers 22 to 25 lines of shoes for sale, and continues to serve San Clemente as the only shoe repair shop in town.  

Big Band Sounds
Before Sam began his shoe repair business, he was - and still is - a talented musician who played trumpet professionally in Big Bands for more than 32 years. His heart has always been in his music. He began playing when he was six-years-old, and was the smallest member of the Veteran’s Drum and Bugle Corps in his hometown just outside of Pittsburgh where he routinely played “Taps” at funerals with the other members of the Corps. 
Later, Sam joined Jimmy Noise and the Noise Makers, a dance band with a big band sound that played at all the J.D. dances in the Pittsburgh area. J.D. stood for “Juvenile Delinquent” and the dances were held at local high schools to keep the kids from getting into trouble by giving them a social outlet and a place to listen to their music. And before long, his career had him playing in venues from the Majestic Ballroom, to the Queen Mary, to the Disneyland Resort Hotel and more. 

Sam began his profession as a shoe repair journeyman reluctantly, following in his father’s footsteps. Fate intervened and he was sidetracked to San Diego with the help of a Navy recruiter. He expected to be heading to Washington D.C. as the recruiter had promised but ended up in the Navy in San Diego. In Boot Camp, he was able to continue his music by serving in the Drum and Bugle Corps. It wasn’t long, however, before he discovered his 
second love. 

Medic Corpsman
Surgery fascinated Sam and he trained as a Medic with the Navy. His intention was to go through the Naval Medical School, an opportunity offered by a favorite Commander who was himself a talented surgeon. The Commander was sent to Korea where he was killed in action before he could make good on his offer of help. Sam was so upset by this turn of events that it was 13 years before he could pick up his trumpet and play again. Then once again, a change in direction interfered with what Sam thought were his plans, but this time it was because of a pair of shoes…
My Kingdom for a Shoe
The Navy often redistributed its recruits to different Naval branches. In 1948, Sam was redirected from the Navy to the Marines. He was stationed at Camp Pendleton, but had to go through further Marine Boot Camp training at nearby Camp Del Mar. When he was issued his Marine uniform and equipment, it was discovered that the Marines did not have shoes big enough for his size 13A feet. He was sent back to serve in the Navy, which could provide him with bigger shoes. This small incident proved to be a big changing point in
 his life. 

While facing a routine Naval uniform inspection Sam discovered that his boots were in serious need of repair. The bootmakers on Base were all too busy to make the repairs. He remembered that there was a little shop in Oceanside called Davis Brothers Shoe Repair. He dropped in to get his boots repaired but they, too, were unable to make the repairs in time for the inspection. Nineteen-year-old Sam asked if he could use their tools to make the repairs himself. Granted permission, he proceeded to do just that, not only with skill but also quickly, while Dick Davis – the shop owner – looked on. 

As Sam left the shop, Dick offered him a job repairing shoes in his spare time. Still in the Navy, he turned Dick down. But two months later, when Sam returned to repair another pair of boots, Dick remembered the young sailor and made him another offer of $1 per hour for a 70-hour-week. Sam, who was working on base for $18 a week for the same amount of hours, agreed, setting him on the path that would lead him to San Clemente.

Shoe Shop in San Clemente
About the time Sam got out of the Navy, a small shoe repair shop opened in San Clemente. The proprietor made his way down to Oceanside to buy soles from the Davis Brothers Shoe Repair Shop where Sam was working. In the course of several conversations, an opportunity came up for Sam to buy out the owner of the San Clemente shop. That’s exactly what happened and he was soon on his way with his own business.

It was only a couple of months later that Sam received his first large repair order when he was approached by a Company Commander at the School of Infantry. Then, as now, Marines were sent up to the San Clemente end of Camp Pendleton to attend the School of Infantry. Due to the strenuous assignments, they often wore out their boots. As each Marine was issued only two pairs of boots, repairs had to be made on a fairly frequent basis.

The Commander gave Sam a repair order for 230 pairs of boots. At this time, Sam’s Del Mar shop was 11’ by 14’ and he couldn’t even fit 230 pairs of boots in the shop, let alone have room to work on them. The enterprising Sam, who lived on the street behind his shop, stored the boots in his house, bringing 20 pairs at a time to his shop to work on them. He finished the repairs in record time, securing future orders from the Commander. 

It wasn’t long before Sam picked up his trumpet again, joining a group of friends in regular jamming sessions in San Clemente. Edward Lesneski, who owned the local mortuary, needed a recording of “Taps” played for an upcoming funeral. As Sam entered the room, he realized that the person who had died was a friend of his. Sam’s haunting recording of “Taps” played for his friend that afternoon was used by the funeral home for many years afterwards.

Sam was also a favorite of the Nixon family while they were at Casa Pacifica. In addition to serving the Nixons, Henry Kissinger and David Eisenhower, he fit Julie and David’s new baby - President Nixon’s grandchild and President Eisenhower’s great grandchild - with its first pair of shoes. 

“With Love, 
there has to be trust”
Sam’s wife Carol appeared on the scene at exactly the right time. His daughter Paula, transitioning from a private Catholic school in Anaheim to San Clemente High School, was having some challenges with registration. Carol, a customer of the shoe store and the former Dean of Counseling at the high school, offered her assistance. It took only a few minutes for Carol to get Paula’s schedule and registration settled. A grateful Sam took her shopping and out for dinner shortly afterwards and they both recognized that they enjoyed each other’s company. Another bond was forged when they discovered that they were both from the Pittsburgh area, although they were raised on opposite sides of the city from each other.
“With love, right along side of it you have to have trust, or it’s no good. Carol and I have the greatest trust in each other,” Sam says.
The couple recently celebrated 30 years of marriage. They love traveling and have visited much of the world, though Greece and Italy remain favorite places. Italy is the home of Sam’s forefathers and he experiences a particular 
rush whenever he returns there. Both of his parents emigrated from southern Italy, not far from Sicily, and Sam is fluent in Italian. He also has a wonderful sense of fun. Just be careful if he offers to teach you some new Italian words…