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There is an ice skating tradition in the Spiteri family that goes all the way back to the 1940s -- to the top levels of skating. Never mind that 87-year old Joe Spiteri was never a skater. For that matter, neither was his son George.
That didn't stop the Bay Area company Joe Spiteri founded in 1963 from making custom skating boots for everyone from Dorothy Hamill to current Olympian Mirai Nagasu.
“Back home, we don’t have no ice like in San Francisco,” said Joe Spiteri, who immigrated to the U.S. from Malta after World War II. “Evidently I didn’t even know what ice skating looks like.”
When Spiteri landed in the U.S., he planned to continue the shoe making career he’d started back home in Malta. He took a job with a shoemaker on San Francisco’s Market Street who was dabbling in ice skate making. Spiteri was soon making five pairs a week.
In 1963, he branched off and opened his own company, the S.P. Teri Company. The South San Francisco company makes high-end ice and roller skating boots that can cost as much as $800 a pair.
Inside the South San Francisco plant, a small but loyal band of workers turn out a product that has made the company famous.
Nephew Joe Falzon has worked in the shop for 34 years, but has yet to make a pair for himself. “That’s something I want to do before I retire,” Falzon said.
Spiteri’s son George originally planned to be an accountant, before a change of heart made him follow his father’s boot steps.
“After working with my dad and seeing the stuff we were doing for skaters,” George Spiteri said, ”This was a lot more fun than being an accountant.”
George Spiteri now runs the company. He travels to skating tournaments and trade shows to take skaters measurements.
George pointed to a wall of framed pictures showing just some of the famous skaters who have worn S.P. Teri boots. He points to a picture of national champion Paul Wylie. Spiteri also remembers Nancy Kerrigan and Tanya Harding coming by for fittings, separately of course, after the whole knee-whacking incident.
He also remembers the time he bumped into Dorothy Hamill at a skating event in Las Vegas. “She came to me to take measurements,” Joe Spiteri said. “I said what shoes are you wearing? She said I am wearing your shoes.”
George Spiteri said skating designs have evolved with the sport. Each skate now has several levels of padding inside, and the leather is doubled. Skaters can now request graphics on the side, like hearts, stars or their name. But despite the modern touches, the work is still done by hand -- the same as when Joe Spiteri started out. “It’s been made this way since 1963,” said George.
Another thing that hasn’t changed is the presence of Joe Spiteri in the shop. Even at 87, he comes by every day to help out. He double-checks the quality –stopping to chat with each of the workers. He said his daily trips to the shop keep him going.
“That’s my pleasure,” he said. “I will do this until I’m gone.”