He’s made shoes for everyone from Meryl Streep and Bette Midler to an entire company of Radio City Rockettes – Phil LaDuca is literally keeping Broadway on its toes, from his store in a quiet side street in Hell’s Kitchen, New York City
How long have you lived in Hell’s Kitchen?
What brought you here?
I came to New York to be a Broadway performer. I did three shows on Broadway in the 1980s: Brigadoon for Agnes de Mille, Pirates of Penzance with Keven Kline, and Singin’ in the Rain for Twyla Tharp, as well as toured with Camelot with Richard Harris.
What has your experience of the neighborhood been?
It became home. It became my all. I lived here. Struggled here. Cried, failed, loved, worked, and succeeded here; first on Broadway then as a shoe designer/owner. It was my neighborhood. I walked everywhere and knew everyone.
How has it changed?
I wasn’t here when the Port Authority was built (in the 1960s), but that changed the complexion of the area. Originally it was the Italian section of Manhattan and was known for its food stores and restaurants. The Port Authority made it transient and most of the Italian families moved but they kept the shops open. When I first came to the area in the early 1980s, it was in another major transition. During the day, the great food shops were still there. I knew Sal and Joe, the butchers at Abruscato meat market; Dominick and Tony, the guys at Central Fish; Tommy, the cook and owner of Guido’s Supreme Macaroni; the guys over at Stiles fruits and vegetables. But at night, when the shops closed, people stayed in or away because of the crime and drugs. Thankfully, due to Giuliani, the area transcended into a vibrant, safe, bustling part of Times Square and is now a wonderful place to live, shop and dine out in (and see Broadway shows).
How has your business changed?
I started on 9th Avenue between 39th and 40th Streets and the area was still a bit sketchy. But I was the first new shoe store to open in the area in over 50 years and every day was an adventure, from having Meryl Streep to Bette Midler walking in alone, to 20 Radio City Rockettes in for fittings, to limousines pulling up with high society ladies who had heard about me. All set amid the backdrop of some very unsavory street people, many of whom I came to know and befriend as “the regulars”. It was a very colorful beginning for LaDuca shoes for sure! Our new location is on 47th Street between 8th and 9th as I could never leave the neighborhood.
Where do you eat in the area?
I really like Capizzi on 9th Avenue: great menu, good wine choices, and they are my paisanos from Sicily. It’s great to see Italian restaurants back in the neighborhood.
Any bars or cafes you’d recommend?
I really enjoy the eclectic menu and pairings at 9th Avenue Vintner.
Where’s your favorite place in the neighborhood?
Going up on the roof and looking up and down 9th Avenue and seeing the vibrancy of the street, especially during the 9th Avenue Food Festival.
What’s the best thing about living here?
The ability to walk to everything: shows, shops, restaurants, cafes, and restaurants (Thai, Indian, Chinese, Pakistani, Italian, French, burgers, health foods … everything you can imagine).
And the worst?
That great old places like Guido’s, Giordano’s, Casa Bakery, D’iutto’s Cannoli, and Cafe Edison are gone.
Who do you admire here?
Every small business owner. It’s not an easy city to make it in, but as Frankie said: “If you can make it here …”
Do you have a HK secret?
LaDuca shoes was and continues to be a hidden gem where the absolute beginner can rub elbows with movie stars while browsing photos, autographs, and memorabilia that remind us why there is only one Hell’s Kitchen, New York City.
Lastly, since this is the Valentine’s issue, what or who is the love of your life?
The Broadway dancer. Having been a “Broadway baby” myself, still being able to mingle with them has been the greatest love affair of my life. Thank you, my lovely, inspiring family of dancers.
Phil LaDuca has worked as a dancer and choreographer for over 20 years. His off-the-shelf and custom dance shoes have been worn by everyone from Judi Dench and Brooke Shields, to Kristen Chenoweth, Sofia Loren, Nicole Kidman and stars too numerous to mention.
This interview first appeared in the February 2016 issue of W42ST magazine. Stay in touch with W42ST and be first to read stories like this when you receive our daily newsletter. Join the conversation at w42st.com.