Bob the Shoe Man Borsari


Bob ‘The Shoe Man’ Borsari and kids

Isn’t it funny what a pair of loafers can transform into. As you read what I have to say, just remember one thing: Bob, thanks for the memories.

I first met Bob Borsari in 1957. He had recently purchased the Collier Shoe Store and moved to Peterborough from his home in Plymouth, Mass. My mother and father brought me into the shoe store because Bob was having a “super sale.” I was 8 years old and got my first pair of loafers. They were black and had chains and a black strap on the front that could be interchanged. I believe they cost $3.95.

Later in 1957, Bob became a Little League baseball coach. The team was the Yankees. I played on that team and must admit I wasn’t much of a player. Bob always stressed, “Jimmy, just keep trying and you will get better.”

Shortly after Bob moved to Peterborough, he met the love of his life, Mary Higgins. She worked for Dr. Lawrence. Bob and Mary were like surrogate parents to me. When they were first married, they lived on Granite Street. Later, they moved to their home on High Street. That home was like my second home.

After their first child, Jimmy, was born, Bob was so proud. A couple of years later they became the proud parents of twins, Mike and Ellen. I remember many days stopping by Bob and Mary’s and the children would cry and say, “We want to see Dad at the store.” I would push the twins in the baby stroller with their brother Jimmy holding on to the stroller as we would go down Main Street. I was in junior high school and at that time it wasn’t “cool” to push a baby stroller, but I didn’t care. They were like my younger brothers and sister. As they became older I taught them how to fish and remember the time that we rode in my blue Opal Cadet car.

During my junior high and high school years, the shoe store became the hangout for myself and many of my fellow classmates. Oftentimes, we would tell Bob how our teachers didn’t understand us and weren’t fair. He would listen, but the answer was always the same: “No matter what, they are in charge.”

When graduation was getting closer, Bob and Mary encouraged me to go to college in Ohio and follow my dreams. Bob said, “If you don’t want to work at the (Monadnock Paper) Mill or (N.H.) Ball Bearings go to college.” Bob was just one of the Peterborough businessmen who went the extra mile to encourage youth.

When I would receive an award, no matter how big or small, Bob made me feel so important. For graduation, Bob and Mary took me out to dinner at the John Hancock Inn — a time I will always remember. We had prime rib and Yorkshire pudding.

Although I went away to college in Ohio, I still maintained a closeness to the Borsaris. Throughout this closeness I realized the extreme sacrifices that Bob made in order to maintain the shoe store and provide for his family. Bob was a proud person and many of the things he did for less-fortunate families in Peterborough and the surrounding area he did behind the scenes. Bob taught me the values of hard work, being trustworthy and the true meaning of friendship. I remember shoveling snow in front of the shoe store and occasionally working at the shoe store; I would get new shoes in trade.

In 1973 my wife, Connie, came to Peterborough to meet my family for the first time. I also had her meet the Borsaris. When Bob first saw her, he came up and gave her a big hug. From that point, Bob and Mary accepted her into their family, as they had done to me. After Connie flew back to Ohio, Bob said, “Jimmy, you better not let her get away.”

When Bob’s son Jimmy got married, Bob and Mary were so proud. It wasn’t long after that Ellen got married and I still remember Bob saying, “She looks just like Mary did when we got married.” When the grandchildren were born, Bob was so proud. He loved all of them equally. I remember one night I was eating supper at Bob and Mary’s, and Conrad came in dressed in a children’s fireman’s outfit. The grandkids Conrad, Cam and MariEllen referred to Bob and Mary as Nonno and Meme. Conrad said, “If the fire whistle goes off, I am out of here.” Isn’t it ironic that Bob and I attended Conrad’s graduation from firefighter and paramedic school?

I remember when the store moved from Main Street to right next door to Nonie’s and Derby’s. The bench outside was always full with guys like Bob — George Brown, Lenny Paradise, Pete Thomas, Lee LaFleur, Roger Whitcomb and Ralph Chiccolini. All of Peterborough’s and the world’s problems were solved there. At lunch, oftentimes Bert Broderick and Dave Duvall would bring their lunch to the shoe store and talk with Bob. Later in the afternoon, Andy Norton would stop by to talk with Bob.

Do you remember the article in the Ledger-Transcript when Bob locked a female customer in the store? She was looking for shoes and Bob forgot she was in the store. He locked the door and went to the bank to made a deposit. He returned shortly after making the deposit and the woman’s husband was waiting outside the store. Needless to say, Bob was teased by several friends and other business owners.

Bob also loved being in the aerobics class at the town hall, which was led by Debbie Giamo. It was just fun hearing Bob’s tales about the events at class.

Bob was an active Catholic and realized the importance of strong faith and religious values. He was also proud of his Italian heritage and realized the sacrifices that his parents made to provide for their family. I remember Bob saying to my father-in-law, “Mose, I am FBI — full-blooded-Italian.”

Bob always did his best to help less fortunate, particularly children. He often came across as very opinionated and abrupt, but beneath that hard shell was a marshmallow who placed family, church and friends above all. My secretary and the girls who worked with Connie would always get a kick out of Bob when he would call. He would attempt to disguise his accent, but they would say, “Bob, we know it is you.”

Bob: Thank you for the memories, life lessons, love and support. Hopefully the reader will realize how a pair of loafers can change lives.

Donald J. “Jimmy” Smith lives in Sun City Center, Fla. Longtime Peterborough resident Bob Borsari passed away June 28 at Catholic Medical Center in Manchester.