Tony Cento of Greenwood, who co-owned Cento Shoes in downtown Indianapolis with his brother, died last Wednesday. He was 50.
Cento, an Indianapolis native, started working at the shop his father founded at 33 S. Meridian St. about the time he graduated from Roncalli High School in 1988. He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree from the Indiana University Kelly School of Business.
He and his brother, Mike Cento, eventually took over for their father, Paul, who came to Indianapolis in 1971 from Italy, where his family said he repaired shoes for Pope Pius XII and made custom shoes for actress Sophia Loren.
Today, Cento—still located at 33 S. Meridian St.—sells men’s shoes, hats and clothing and also repairs shoes, jackets, purses and other leather goods.
In a statement on Twitter, Downtown Indy Inc. said the business community is “saddened by the untimely and tragic death this past week of Tony Cento, the caring and service-minded co-owner of Cento Shoes located near Monument Circle.”
The not-for-profit advocacy group launched a GoFundMe page to raise money to help the Cento family pay for a funeral “and other expenses to help sustain the Cento family business—a beloved and longtime staple of downtown Indianapolis.”
“Tony and his brother Michael worked tirelessly to keep their 50-year-old store open and viable amidst the challenges of this past year, especially for small businesses,” Downtown Indy said on the GoFundMe page.
By 10:15 p.m. Sunday, the effort had raised more than $15,000, with donations ranging from $15 to $2,000.
Like many downtown businesses, Cento Shoes has had a tough past 14 months. When the pandemic hit and customers were not allowed inside, Tony Cento started contactless delivery to continue serving them.
The store was also damaged and looted during last summer’s social unrest. “They broke one of the windows and they just took a lot of clothes, shirts and hats,” Cento told IBJ of the first night of riots. The second night “was even worse. That’s when they got three more windows and just took pretty much all the clothes and over half the shoes that I had.”
At the time, he was worried about the future of the store. “It’s, how much can you handle?” he said. “How much can you take before it knocks you out? But I believe we’ll get through it. You just got to stay strong and just take it one day at a time.”
The family has planned a visitation from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Monday at O’Riley Funeral Home, 6107 S. East St. A mass and funeral will begin at 11 a.m. Tuesday at St. Mark Catholic Church.