On 24 April 1912 a 24-year-old shoemaker from Calascibetta, Sicily named Colegno Drago set sail on the SS Madonna from the port of Naples to immigrate to the U. S. Only a few months later his wife, Francesca Drago, sailed from the port of Palermo to join him in New York. With her were their two children, Clementina, age 4, and Maria, age 6 months. In New York Drago's name changed to Charles F. Drago (1887-1954).
According to his obituary in the New York Times (15 Nov. 1954, p. 27) Drago "came to New York in 1912 as a professional musician," and only fell back on the family trade (shoemaker) when he was unable to earn a living as a musician. (There is also family lore of Drago working as a laborer, digging the Lexington Avenue subway.) At some point Drago expanded his business to include shoe repairs. "Mr. Drago prospered and opened two other shops in Manhattan. To accommodate a customer who had only one pair of shoes Mr. Drago would sole and heel the shoes in fifteen minutes while the customer waited. This gave him an idea for a new service that was quickly instituted in all three of his establishments and copied later by other shoe repair shops" (quoting the Times obituary again). At the time of his death Drago had a chain of 12 shoe repair shops in New York.
Two sons, Alfred Drago (1917-1986) and Armando Drago (1921-1993), continued the family business. Armando's wife, Lee Drago, also worked in the business, which had 35 stores in 1967. Lee Drago was consulted as recently as 1999 by a reporter writing a story about why shoe repair shops sell umbrellas (New York Times, 5 Sep. 1999, p. cy2).
A story in the New York Times (13 July 1978, p. d17) recounts more details of the Drago story. Armando Drago, managing 45 stores in 1978, was the subject of the article. "It has been a half century since his immigrant father, Charles, quit his first job digging the Lexington Avenue subway and took a shoemaking job in a store at 130th Street and Amsterdam Avenue... Just as the father began as a 6-year-old back in Sicily by picking up fallen cobbler's nails and straightening them, so Armando began, like the 10 other Drago children, as a 6-year-old gleaning floor scraps when his father opened his own shop at Broadway and 151st Street... By age 11, Armando was trained by his older brother, Alfredo, in the fine art of shining shoes, then he moved on to helping out with cleaning and blocking hats... And then came the repair work, where he got to use the shop's long, noisy lathe machine. His father died 20 years ago, leaving a chain of nine stores."
In May 2007 the Switchboard.com online telephone directory listed only 4 Drago locations in New York: 2 Charlton St. (aka 195 6th Ave.), 625 8th Ave., 19 Clinton St., and 2214 Broadway. A maps.google.com search on the same date turned up 2 additional stores: 151 E. 77th St. and 509 Madison Ave. 625 8th Ave. seems to be the Port Authority bus terminal. I could not locate a Drago there. But there is a Drago (as of June 2007) in Penn Station. And there is another Drago (as of Feb. 2008) at 2851 Broadway. By Oct. 2009 the Drago at 2851 Broadway sported a huge protruding shoe. The Drago at 19 Clinton St. closed (replaced by Cocoa Bar at that address by Feb. 2008).
Drago's Sicilian hometown, Calascibetta, has its own website: Comune di Calascibetta. There are also articles on Calascibetta in wikipedia, etc.
This sign disappeared when the Drago Shoe Repair at this location moved in early 2006.
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