Georgio’s Bottega

Jan 22, 2022 | 2022 Articles, Community, Mallory Moad

by Mallory Moad

“That’s just the smell of my cologne!” That’s how Arsen Giorgio Sheklian, proprietor of Georgio’s Bottega, flirtatiously explains the fragrance that tickles your nose as soon as you walk in the door. Arsen is a certified footwear craftsman and certified leather craftsman, Georgio’s Bottega is his shop, and the pleasing olfactory experience comes from the high quality leather with which he works.

Describing himself as “a cordwainer and pattern engineer,” Arsen repairs, as well as creates, leather goods (such as wallets, handbags, and belts), and shoes. Let that sink in. He. Makes. Shoes. From the design and engineering to cutting each piece by hand and assembling, Arsen makes beautiful, one of a kind bespoke shoes from the ground up, using the finest Italian Vacchetta leather. He has also been known to work miracles in terms of repair, taking thrashed, well-worn shoes that have seen better days and giving them a makeover that gives them a new lease on life.

Arsen at work

Born and raised in Fresno and one of a tiny number of shoemakers in the Central Valley, Arsen acquired an appreciation for the art from the ultimate master: his father. “My dad, George “Georgio” Sheklian, started making shoes at the age of eight years old in Argentina and had a lifetime passion for shoes and shoemaking,” he says. They began working together when Arsen was just a kid. As he got older and became involved in music (more about that later), his dad offered an incentive: for learning the trade and taking the business seriously, Arsen was given permission to use the shop as a rehearsal space.

Arsen Sheklian and his father, George Sheklian

This paternal carrot on a stick worked like a charm and a job that began as kind of a bribe soon became a source of joy and satisfaction. Under Arsen’s ownership and management since 2014, Georgio’s Bottega is not only an award-winning business, his work has gained world wide recognition as well. In addition to local customers, he has clients of many professions from Europe, Canada, and all over the United States who are, in his words, “all different and unique.” He adds, “I’ve done lots of work for mainstream brands,” but due to nondisclosure agreements, their identities must remain secret. We’ll just have to take his word for it (and that’s OK by me).

In it’s fourth location since opening in 1963, Georgio’s Bottega in north Fresno is a beauty. Arsen used his exceptional skills to create a retail/work space that is unique. Absorbing a European design sense while living in Italy for ten years, “It was really important for me to marry the two ideas of Americana and Italy. I wanted the store to resemble me, the craft and a place where time stood still.” The result is an environment that is upscale without pretension. It’s comfortably cosmopolitan with a personal twist. Gorgeous shoes, handbags, and other leather items are on display in the front half of the room in a boutique setting with an intercontinental flair, while a completely visible open workshop occupies the back. Vintage signs add a sense of lighthearted fun, while polished hardwood floors and the sounds of classic jazz from the likes of Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra are the icing on this classy cake. Occasionally, Arsen’s lipstick red Moto Guzzi Lodola Gran Turismo motorcycle can be seen parked at the door. The cherry on top! And with his retro fashion sense, winning personality, and movie star looks, Arsen himself completes the package.

Moto Guzzi Gran Turismo

Followers of the local music scene might know Arsen as the front man/standup bass player/songwriter for his rockabilly band, Arsen Roulette and The Ricochets. Acquiring his stage persona from a time in Las Vegas when he won black 17 in roulette three times in a row; it’s another testament to his cleverness. Starting out playing in a punk band called Landmine, his introduction to rockabilly was a game changer. “I was going through a really rough patch in life at the time, my first major breakup.” Dragged off to attend concerts in San Francisco by Steve Cornell, an acquaintance who became one of his best friends, Arsen was captivated by the music’s energy. “The music is fun and full of life. Everyone is there to have a great time and dance.” He started his own band and gained a following here in Fresno but eventually moved to Italy where he was asked to do a project for a major recording label. The current lineup of the band was still touring Europe once a year but, as he puts it, “Covid put a little bit of a break on that.”

Shopping for leather in Italy

Arsen was still residing in Italy in 2009 when his father suffered a stroke. He loved living abroad, but his loyalty to his father and the business he had established compelled Arsen to return to help run the shop during his recovery. “It was actually a blessing in disguise,” he explains. “I got to spend more time with my dad and he taught me so much.” George Sheklian passed in 2014, at which time Arsen became the sole owner of Georgio’s and Son, later re-imagining and renaming it Georgio’s Bottega.

Shoes for gentlemen

Although Arsen Giorgio Sheklian has made an international name for himself as a designer, craftsman, and musician, his success goes beyond monetary worth. It is rooted in love and respect: for father and son, for community, for creativity, and for a family legacy. He speaks from his heart when he says, “You can’t put a price on that.”

My name is Mallory Moad, and I believe what’s in your heart matters more than what’s in your bank account.

For more information, including photos and videos, visit Georgio’s Bottega on Facebook and Instagram and at www.georgiosbottega.com.

Mallory Moad is a visual/performance artist, vocalist in the jazz band Scats on The Sly and a proud Central San Joaquin Valley native.

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