The shoe man can still put the leather to the road

June 11, 1994|By Rafael Alvarez | Rafael Alvarez,Sun Staff Writer

It may be the shoe man's last walk up Harford Road; a slow, afternoon trudge through the heart of Hamilton -- in and out of the doughnut shop, the cleaners, the pizza joint, the video store and the gas station with the simple pitch: "Anybody need shoes today?"

He says: "You never know when you might sell a pair of shoes, so I just go right down the line."

Edward Angell has gone right down the line to the end of the line.

After more than 30 years of pedestrian sojourns from one end of Baltimore to the other -- selling thousands of pairs of shoes and

Christmas cards in season -- old age and fragile health will deliver him to a retirement home at the end of this month.

"Things are starting to come to an end," says Mr. Angell, 78, who moves with a loping limp because of an artificial hip. "It's sad, but people say it's in my best interest. It's not that I can't work. I can still work."

Just the other day, he went about proving it.

At noon, Mr. Angell leaves his small apartment next to the Pyle Fence Co. and crosses Harford Road to wait for the No. 19 bus in front of Alessi's Citgo at Southern Avenue. Without a driver's license, he depends instead on transit buses to make sales calls along Harford Road, York Road, Reisterstown Road and as far away as Hunt Valley.

"My gosh, I'd like to know how many miles Eddie's walked in his life," says Jean Hammond, a sales clerk at the Towson Bootery and a friend for 35 years. "People come up and say: "Guess where I saw Eddie Angell?' It could be anywhere. He's always on the road."

From Mr. Angell's left wrist hangs his office -- a blue canvas bag with his catalog, order forms, and a "Brannock Device" for measuring feet. His right hand is deep in his pocket, jiggling change.

The bus comes, and he takes it just five blocks north to Echodale Avenue on the edge of the Hamilton shopping district. "I don't like to start walking until I get on the job, but then I get going pretty good," he says. "I know the spots, mostly businesses where people are too busy to get out to the store."

He walks into the Dunkin' Donuts, a glad hand extended in front of him, announcing: "Edward Angell. I sell Mason Shoes -- all leather, arch support and cushioned in soles." People look up from their coffee, stare as he opens the tattered catalog on the counter, and pass. He asks the woman behind the counter: "Hon, you need a pair of shoes?" She doesn't. Only Jim Sinnott, who bought a pair of white bucks from Mr. Angell four years ago, gives the shoe man the time of day. With admiration, he says: "You can't sell shoes door-to-door without being a hustler, particularly in this day and age when most people buy shoes at the dime store."

Warehouse discount stores, two-career families where no one is home during the day, fear of strangers, and cheap, disposable footwear have steadily pushed door-to-door shoe salesman toward the exit sign.

"It was the Edward Angells that made this company what it is," says Rich Johnson, an officer with the 90-year-old Mason Shoe Co. of Chippewa Falls, Wis., which had direct sales of about 2 million pairs ofshoes last year. "Almost all of our customers order out of the catalog for themselves. The true, door-to-door guy like Mr. Angell is a dinosaur."

The dinosaur lumbers from the Dunkin' Donuts to the Harford Cleaners to the Amoco station to the Goodyear store in search of a 20 percent commission on wingtips, loafers, running shoes, pumps and work boots, all without luck.

"I just keep going," he says. "Sooner or later, there'll be a break. It's not everywhere you go they're going to buy a pair of shoes. It's not an item you need everyday."

At the Jiffy Lube, Mr. Angell walks into a service bay calling out: "Anybody need any shoes?"

The men just stare at him until one of them points to a co-worker and laughs: "He needs a new brain."

"I don't sell brains," says Mr. Angell, turning his back on them for Harford Road and an afternoon that bears no fruit for a man used to selling eight pairs of shoes a week.

Edward C. Angell was born and raised on Bolton Street before spending more than 50 years on Bosley Avenue in Towson, where he lived until about five years ago. His father was a Metropolitan Life insurance salesman who lived to be 97.

Before Mr. Angell hit the streets -- where he has been bitten by dogs, robbed and even had the police called on him -- he had a civilian job at the old Edgewood Arsenal and Fort Detrick. Before that, he worked for local dairies and ice cream plants.

Never married, he lives alone with a portrait of himself as a young man painted by his late mother, Irma. His one great love is the water, as the members of Hillcrest Swimming Pool know. In the afternoons, he might unwind at the Enoch Pratt Free Library and the evenings often find him in the company of a few beers. Most of his meals are taken at the Golden Key Restaurant, a Greek diner on Harford Road where everybody knows Mr. Angell and more than a few have bought shoes from him.

Says waitress Gerri Parks, serving him a big bowl of pea soup and a ham and cheese sandwich: "That man walks and walks and walks."

Mr. Angell stares into his pea soup, considering the feat he has accomplished and the fate that awaits him this month at Towson's Presbyterian Home.

"Physically, it's been tough, being on the street and all," he says. "But I've made a fair and decent living. I guess it's for the best."

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