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Whitestone cobble shop faces closure

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"I came in for a couple of years, but then I liked the neighborhood, I liked the people and a couple of years, they went by," said Francica, who is 72.

As real estate prices continue to climb in New York, businesses like Francica's get swallowed up by rising rents and real estate tax hikes.

"We came to a point where the rent got too high," he said. "For me it's a big raise because I'm a one-man operation over here."

He said when the landlord told him he was raising the store's monthly rent from $1,100 to $1,500, Francica had to re-evaluate whether the shop he opened the day after Memorial Day in 1954 would be able to sustain itself much longer.

"For me to handle it, I can't handle it because I had open-heart surgery two years ago and I'm limited to the amount of work I can do," he said.

The Clearview Shoe Repair Shop, at 19-07 Utopia Parkway, is owned and run by Francica, who moved to Queens from Italy with his family when he was 15 years old.

When Francica was a high school student, a shoemaker offered him an apprenticeship.

He said that during his first few years in the shoe business as an independent store owner with a $90 monthly rent, the Whitestone neighborhood was 95 percent Jewish.

"For 27 years I closed during the Jewish holidays," he said. "It was out of respect for the neighborhood."

Today he said the demographics of Whitestone have changed, but his faithful clients have not.

"The whole neighborhood - Whitestone, Bayside, College Point, you name it - they move, they're still coming back," he said. "Some of them, they mail me their shoes throughout the years. People, they send me shoes from California."

Now he said he fears the closing of his store and the emptiness that will inevitably creep into his life.

"I'm trying to stretch it out," said Francica, whose shop operates Tuesday through Saturday. "I have no hobbies. I dread retirement."

The Whitestone resident hopes that somehow he will find a way to sustain his business.

"I'm waiting for a miracle," he said. "I wanted to work. I would have put in another five to eight years."

Instead he said he will just hope and wait until the day he turns the "open" sign to "closed" - for good.

"I had such an energy but I lost. My morale went down a little bit," he said. "It's part of life, as they say."

Reach reporter Cynthia Koons by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 141.

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