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Don Ward—The Shoe Shine Dude

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.

Further Reading: New York Times, Ask Men and Denver Post.

To steal violets from your crown,
Glue them to her wrist,
You have to spit to see the shine.

Surprise link, click on it...I dare you!

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Reader Comments (44)

Hey I see this guy all the time. Which reminds me I need a shine.

February 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJason

What a great life ! ........ I also wonder how many chicks he picks up a day ?

February 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGENE

A skirt wearing chick a day, that's all I ask for, one that is willing to have a seat while I stare at her lovely nylon clad legs. Ah, what bliss to stare under that skirt, I'd certainly be a shoe shine boy any day ;)

February 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMykola Mick Dementiuk

@Jason: Tell Don I said hi when you do!

@GENE: I should've asked him that! He sure meets a ton of people, every day and a good portion of them are women!

@Mykola Mick Dementiuk: I was thinking the same thing yesterday! Don told me 30% of his clients are women, I'm surprised he doesn't have his own reality show!

February 28, 2012 | Registered CommenterTripping With Marty

I admire his entrepreneurial spirit. His annual plan is perhaps the deal of the century. It's also nice that for at least a few days, your shoes don't hate you for a change.
That said, the \"racially sensitive\" spidey-sense was tingling while reading your story, the surprise link didn't help.
Side note: Mr. Attache case wins douche of the day award.

February 28, 2012 | Unregistered Commentercsp

What? No Billy Batts yelling in the background \"Go get your shine box\"

February 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTerry

@TWM .... Wilt Chamberlain said he slept with 20,000+ woman .... the shoe shine guy could also do that !

February 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGENE

\"My philosophy: a hundred-dollar shine on a three-dollar pair of shoes.\" Bill Murray in Stripes.

February 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDaveW

@csp: I agree about Don's 100 buck a year deal and also about the asshole with the attache case! Some people just don't get it!

@Terry: Ha ha ha! That's my favorite scene from Goodfellas!

@GENE: Who knows, maybe he's beat that record already!

@DaveW: Great line from Stripes, one of my favorite movies of all time!

@Everyone: I don't know why slashes are appearing when \\\"quote\\\" marks are used here in the comments, I'll check with the hosting support people. It's a little annoying and I apologize!

February 28, 2012 | Registered CommenterTripping With Marty

Marty, Great towel and buffing Shots, I could almost hear the buffing in the wind. I used to polish my own until a couple of years ago. It's a great experience. And they work real hard & give you a great result. I guess it's what women feel like when their getting their nails done. Plus , it really does protect the leather from cracking.
I got a guy in the Port Authority at Drago Shoe Repairr on level 2 that dances around like James Brown, slaps your boot with his towel & says Whoa, yea, Whew. He's a trip.

February 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDanny the Freelancer

Oh, yes, women gets their shoe shine even way back then.

I better get my shoes and leathers shine by this shoe shine dude (or any other shoe shine dudes that are still around in NYC) before they are CEMUSA'd\\\" by Bloomberg .

[As for my previous comment, I deliberately chose the word 'snatch', for some reason I associate it with Lady Gaga]

February 28, 2012 | Unregistered Commenteresquared

¯\\(°_o)/¯ - Who knows?

February 28, 2012 | Unregistered Commentercsp

Oh man!! He seems like such a great guy and he did such an amazing job!!! Wish I had shoes worthy of shining! Love this!!!
+a million for Babes in Toyland!! hahaha

February 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLindsay

@Danny the Freelancer: I've never had a shoe shine and it was a great experience and cool to hang out with Don and his pals. I'll check out your guy at the Port Authority in a couple weeks, thanks for the heads up!

@esquared: You are so right, shoe shine guys are probably next on Bloomberg's hit list! Love your Lady Gaga snatch association!

@csp: Can I \\\"quote\\\" you on that?

@Lindsay: You should go get a shine from him, he'll make any shoe look shine worthy! Glad you lied the Babes in Toyland clip, what a great band!

February 28, 2012 | Registered CommenterTripping With Marty

Now linking ain't working also...

Here's a link to a shoe shine boy shining a woman's shoes http://www.gg-art.com/news/photoshow/54967l1.html

Here's the link \\\"CEMUSA'd\\\" http://vanishingnewyork.blogspot.com/2011/09/newsstand-slaughter.html

February 28, 2012 | Unregistered Commenteresquared

Another great blog today.
It's people like this that should be recognized.
I remember a few in Chicago.
Such a great street banter and 'sales pitch'.
Worth the price of admission.
'Shudos' on another great post!

February 28, 2012 | Unregistered Commenter"Boris"

I want to get my shoes shined! It's people like Shoe Shine Dude who make the city awesome.

February 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGoggla

Don Ward seems to be a really nice guy, and it’s always nice to see people happy in their work instead of the usual bitching.

@Terry: the first thing that popped into my mind was Enrico Salvatore “Ratso” Rizzo
“End up a hunchback like my old man? If you think I'm crippled, you should have caught him at the end of the day. My old man spent fourteen hours a day down in that subway. He come home at night, two to three hours worth of change stained with shoe polish. Stupid bastard coughed his lungs out from breathin' in that wax all day. Even a faggot undertaker couldn't get his nails clean. They had to bury him with gloves on.”

Yeah....Mr. Attaché was a double douche bag deluxe with extra cheese!

February 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMartin

Maybe you didn't hear about it, you've been away a long time. They didn't go up there and tell you. I don't shine shoes anymore.

February 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMartin

@esquared: I heard from my host and there's some bug in the comments section that they're working on, hopefully it'll be cleared up soon! Thanks for the links, love the shoeshine boy shot! He looks like Dennis the Menace! And I agree with the Cemusa newsstands, they are boring, sterile and bland. Just like Bloomberg himself!

@\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\"Boris:\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\" Thanks! That's why I love writing and blogging, you get to meet people like Don, that maybe you'd never encounter in your life. Love the word, \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\"Shudos!\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\" Good one Daddio!

@Goggla: Go get a shine, he'd love to have you as a customer!

@Martin: It was a lot of fun hanging out with Don and he's a master at shining shoes. And as you said, it's great to see someone having a good time! Ratso Rizzo is one of the all time great movie characters, I need to watch that movie again. Hey, maybe a Midnight Cowboy tour soon? And as far as your second comment, check out this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5RyqtrGnicc

February 28, 2012 | Registered CommenterTripping With Marty

Spider better watch his feet.....no shine for him.

February 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTerry

Marty, I hate to say it, but you and Jason Voorhees have the same taste in footwear. At least your boots have a proper shine on them now thanks to Don Ward and you won't have to run around in a hockey mask to hide your shame...

February 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJaws the Cabbie

"There's always going to be a certain percent of miserable motherfuckers out there,"

.... truer words have never been spoken :)

Another great post!

February 28, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterroadsidewonders

LOL @ Goodfellas At Moe's

“Hey, Spider, that fuckin' bandage on your foot is bigger than your fuckin' head.”

February 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMartin

@Terry: No shines for Spider!

@Jaws: Ha ha ha! I just did a Google search and you're right! All I need is that Hockey mask...when's the next Friday the 13th? I gotta get ready!

@roadsidewonders: Thanks and I thought the same thing when Don said that!

@Martin: Glad you got a chuckle out of that, it's a classic!

February 28, 2012 | Registered CommenterTripping With Marty

you get what you pay for.,..the dollar one might have been boring.. this is entertainment cheaper than a movie and something to show for it!
we had a few in SF.. used to see them there and wish i had shoes that needed polishing..
I actually learned how to polish shoes at a young age for my dad.. we didn't have one near the house.. so my dad would let me do his for him in exchange for room and board.. no really i'd get a treat like a cookie or something.
i loved these teddy bear shaped cookies at the bakery.
i can still polish the fuck out of a shoe the right way..
it's an awesome smell.

reminds me of the shoe shine trick in the movie "Silver Streak"
Gene Wilder in the best blackface role ever!

February 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGidget

one of my fave scenes in a movie ever...with mancini music as a bonus

February 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGidget

@Gidget: I used to shine my dad's shoes too! Memories! Great scene from "Silver Streak," thanks for the link to that, forgot all about that scene! Hey, they fixed the quotes bug, oh happy day!

February 28, 2012 | Registered CommenterTripping With Marty

It's one of my fave movies of all time.. that scene always makes me smile!

February 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGidget

Great stuff Marty! First, I think it's pretty cool this guy's got "regulars." It's good to see some people appreciate a kind of tradition or throwback to a different era. Also, "There's always going to be a certain percent of miserable motherfuckers out there." Talk about a money quote!


February 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJustin

@Gidget: Me too!

@Justin: I love that he's got regulars too! And I agree wholeheartedly about the quote!

February 28, 2012 | Registered CommenterTripping With Marty

Don seems like an awesome dude. You GOTTA keep those shoes shined up if you wanna get with the finest ladies.

February 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterReggie Thistleton

Nice one! A great visit! Shoe shining & shoe repairs are very under-rated these days, & most of the shoes in the stores are made of such cheap, crappy leather. If I made more money (hah!) I would buy expensive, good quality shoes that would last for years & years & years ... All the polishing stuff is great - saddlesoap, dubbin, oxblood Kiwi. Pure shoe poetry.

February 28, 2012 | Unregistered Commenteronemorefoldedsunset

@Reggie Thistleston: Don's an awesome dude indeed! And you echoed his philosophy, women look at the shoes!

@onemorefoldedsunset: Shoe poetry for sure! Perfect way to describe it!

February 28, 2012 | Registered CommenterTripping With Marty

I admit I look at shoes.. i blogged it once.. I might have scared a bunch of guys.
if a man is wearing the cheapest ked knockoffs from kmart he is either very frugal and has money in the bank
which i doubt
or you can never expect anything more than the dollar menu at McD's for the rest of your life.

February 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGidget

Your boots look great!!Nice tour Marty. Gumby looks like he digs the shoe shine guy's humor..ya need a good audience.

February 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMelanie

@Gidget: Thanks for confirming that the ladies look at the shoes!

@Melanie: Thanks, Don made them look like new and Gumby had a great time, as always!

February 29, 2012 | Registered CommenterTripping With Marty

I'm gonna go buy some shinable shoes, just so I can pay him a visit!

February 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBiff

@Biff: I bet Don could even make unshinable shoes shine, he's that good!

February 29, 2012 | Registered CommenterTripping With Marty

Tom has always wanted a shoe-shine - I'll have to nudge him to go get one the next time he is in the city!

February 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBritta

@Britta: Tom has to get a shine from Don, a classic NYC experience!

March 1, 2012 | Registered CommenterTripping With Marty

may you place a photo of shining a woman's shoes

April 20, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterboy

I passed by this guy recently, but he was harassing and rude. Maybe he was having a bad day, but no means no. I understand he has got to make a living, and I respect that. But please don't get up in my face. I'm laid back, but seriously, he wouldn't stop. Not very professional in my opinion. Maybe thats his "schtick," but it wasn't nice. But, annoying or not, being physically hit by an attaché case is uncalled for. I would have considered a shine, but I drew the line when he picked on my wife.

January 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterUnheard of

@Unheard of: Sorry you had a bad experience. He is a nice guy, maybe he just took it too far with you. Better luck next time!

January 26, 2013 | Registered CommenterTripping With Marty

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