Patrons apt to confide in 'Carolyn Shoeshine'

November 08, 1992|By Deborah Overton | Deborah Overton,Staff Writer

Six years ago, Carolyn Gelazela was a housewife who wanted a job to help pay the college tuition for her oldest child. She answered a newspaper ad and wound up with a new occupation -- shining shoes.

Dressed in a tuxedo, Mrs. Gelazela works a chair at the Marriott Inn in Hunt Valley. Her business, "Carolyn Shoeshine Inc.," serves a predominantly male clientele.

Over time, she has developed a close bond with some of her clients; they discuss a variety of subjects, from family issues to politics.

"Religion, politics and sex are three things that people say you should never discuss, but we get into really good discussions," Mrs. Gelazela said.

And some of the conversations are very personal.

Some of Mrs. Gelazela's clients have spoken candidly about their divorces, and others have shared secrets of the financial world.

"Men do tell you everything. They know I won't repeat it," she said. "I've had men cry in my chair."

Mrs. Gelazela got into the shoeshine business by chance. She answered an ad in The Sun that read: "If you are well-groomed, like to work with men and want to earn $100 a day, call this number. . . ."

Mrs. Gelazela, 49, said there was no job title in the ad and although it sounded a little strange, it piqued her curiosity.

The ad was placed by His Majesty's Chair, a shoeshine business in Baltimore.

She was hired by the outfit, but about a year later it disbanded.

For $2,000, she purchased the rights to the firm's chair at the Hunt Valley Inn under the agreement that she operate independently under another name.

Mrs. Gelazela, who lives in Hereford, has been married for 27 years. She and her husband, Gerald, a metallurgist for a steel company, have four children, ages 19 to 25.

Two of her children are in college -- one at Virginia Tech and the other at West Chester University in Pennsylvania.

Mrs. Gelazela ran for the Baltimore County Council in 1970 and 1974 and lost both times.

She said she has no desire to run again.

"I really enjoy my life now," she said. "At the time, I did it [campaigned for a council seat] because I wanted to effect a lot of changes and it was a concrete way to do it."

Mrs. Gelazela said she still pushes for change through some of her influential clients: "The clientele that I shine, they're movers. They impact a lot that happens.

"I feel if I can talk to the men and influence them, in effect, I'm doing the same thing, except it's a lot more fun."

One of her steady customers, Scott Shotto, 32, enjoys discussing politics with Mrs. Gelazela.

Mr. Shotto is a stock broker at PaineWebber in Hunt Valley. He got his first shoeshine from Mrs. Gelazela about 4 1/2 years ago.

"She's always in a good mood," Mr. Shotto said. "She seems to be genuinely interested in you."

Mrs. Gelazela is much more than a shoeshine lady to Mr. Shotto and some of her other customers.

She has befriended them with her knack for putting people at ease and her gift for conversation.

"There are not too many shoeshine people who you can have a conversation with," said Mr. Shotto.

"They just grunt their way through. They won't even talk."

Jerry Miller, vice president of Miller-Hays and Associates in Hunt Valley, an insurance firm, has been a steady customer for five years.

"She is very friendly," Mr. Miller says.

"She has an ability to make people feel comfortable. She's very bright and very diversified."

Mr. Shotto said Mrs. Gelazela's professionalism is symbolized by the tuxedo she wears. That's "pretty formal for someone's who shines shoes," he said.

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