One of the things I like about writing and blogging is the people you meet along the way. There’s a man who has a shoeshine stand a few blocks from where I live on 6th Avenue between 15th and 14th Street. I’ve probably walked by the man and his stand thousands of times and never said anything. Last Saturday I stopped and said hi and he turned out to be a real nice guy and his shoe shines are just one dollar (the same as a slice of pizza in the joint next to his stand), so I made plans to meet with him today, get a shoe shine and take some pictures. I’ve never had a shoe shine, so I hope he’s gentle with this virgin voyage!
He's located one block down here on 6th Avenue.
And here he...isn't. He told me he'd be here, so I walked around the block, got a bottle of tea from a deli, came back and he's still not here. The guy at the fruit stand said he's usually not here on Monday's. Well, it's time to improvise!
I came back home, went to my good friend Google and typed in, "NYC shoe shine guy." The first posts were all about a guy who is supposedly the most famous shoe shiner in New York and his name is Don Ward. Then I remembered talking about shoe shines with Paul Scanlon during our Bar Exam interview and I thought he mentioned this guy. After emailing Paul, it turns out this is the guy. His stand is on the corner of 47th and 6th. Off to the subway we go, hopefully he didn't take the day off!
Just as I hit the subway, the train pulls up. I love it when that happens!
Okay, we're about a block away, I hope he's here, or this may not be much of a post today!
Look at that on the corner, yes Virginia...
There is a Don Ward! And he's busy shining Eric's shoes, who is like me and has never had a shoe shine experience. Don told me he took one look at Eric's shoes and told him to get in the chair. That's how Don gets a good percentage of his business, he's not shy and calls out to people on the street with pitches like: "If you want to save money, go to Geico, if you want to save your shoes, get on the chair!" He's been shining shoes for the last 22 years in New York and the last eleven have been spent on this very corner. Before he started shining shoes, Don was an accountant and a pastry chef, but he says having his own business is, "Priceless." I asked him if he had a job title and he told me, "Just call me the shoe shine dude!"
Eric's done with his shine and gives Don the five dollar shine fee. The five dollars is worth it just to listen to Don call people out on the street, it's like the shoe shine is a bonus to the stand up act he puts on.
Check it out, Don knows his business. Looks like I'm up next!
And here i am, up on the stand with Gumby. Gumby is just along for the ride, he doesn't have shoes. Oh, okay, he doesn't have feet. Sorry, Gumby, but I have to tell it like it is!
Don put my feet on the marks and told me not to move or I might get hurt.
And he quickly goes to work applying polish to boots that have never been shined in over a year.
As you can see, Don has fast hands, I can see why he told me not to move!
Even as he shines the shoes, he's constantly on the prowl, looking to give someone with scruffy shoes a shoutout on the street.
He got a laugh from this woman as he called out to her and said, "Seriously, you're going to let him walk around the city with shoes in that shape?" Most people smile as Don hurls out his pitches, but not all are amused. He told me that he occasionally gets grief from people and a couple years ago he even got hit with an attache case. "There's always going to be a certain percent of miserable motherfuckers out there," he told me while shining and looking for new targets on the street.
Okay we're in the final stages of the shine right now.
It's a real sight watching him work the towel and buffing up my boots. I can't capture it with pictures, but he's moving at lightning speed.
Okay, we're almost done as Don puts the finishing touches on the boots.
Wow, look at the shine on those boots, they look like new!
Here's the tool's of the trade, located beneath the chairs on top of the shoe shine stand.
And here's a sign listing Don's services. In addition to shoe shines, Don will shine and clean anything leather and for 100 bucks you can have a year of unlimited shines. There's also a drop off service available.
Within minutes of myself stepping down, two regulars climb aboard the shoe shine pedestal. Kevin and Eddie are bus drivers who are regulars and friends of Don's. They said he's the best in town and I have to agree.
Here they are scoping out potential customers, I can almost feel a one-liner brewing in Don's brain.
And here I am, headed for home with a new shine on the boots. Ah, there's no business like shoe business! Oof, sorry, I just couldn't help myself!
Don Ward—The Shoe Shine Dude
Southwest corner of 47th and 6th, from 10 AM to 6 PM, Monday through Saturday.