A little polish helps

At Work

For $6, he'll restore the gleam to your shoes, and he finds that women are better tippers

November 08, 2006|By Tyeesha Dixon | Tyeesha Dixon,Sun Reporter

Jimmy Johnson

Shoe Shiner

Shoe Shine Gallery, Baltimore

Salary --About $100 a day, depending on the number of clients

Age --65

Years on the job --17

How he got started --Johnson started shining shoes when he was 14. But he has been shining shoes professionally for 17 years. He started in his hometown of Norfolk, Va. Nine years ago, his father-in-law introduced him to the owner of the Shoe Shine Gallery in the Gallery mall at the Inner Harbor. He's worked there ever since.

Typical day --Johnson rents the space from the Shoe Shine Gallery owner and runs the operation on his own, six days a week. He works Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. and Saturday, 10:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. He typically gets 15 to 20 customers a day, many of them out-of-towners on business. Most of his regular customers are mall employees.

Services --A shoeshine costs $6 a pair; boots, $12. Johnson said he can shine any kind of shoe except suede, hiking boots and non-black tennis shoes because the polish can ruin the material. He will shine any colored shoe but he prefers to stay away from white footwear, saying he just doesn't like to polish with that color. When customers insist, Johnson does it anyway.

Busiest times --October through December. "In the summertime, people wear sandals and tennis shoes," Johnson said. Despite the fact that polish protects shoes, rainy days also are usually slow throughout the year, he said.

Best polish --Johnson says it's Kiwi brand, which he buys at the local drugstore in black, brown, cordovan and neutral. He sometimes uses Johnston & Murphy brand sole dressing.

Tipping --A good tip is about $4. "Don't ask me why, but women tip better than men do."

Past to present --Johnson said when he started almost 20 years ago, a shoeshine was 75 cents. He notes that fewer people are getting their shoes shined - but he can't figure out why. "If you take care of your shoes, your shoes take care of your feet. People don't get shoes shined as often as they should."

The good --"I love to shine people's shoes, and I like people. I love doing it."

The bad --It's an inconsistent business. "You have slow days, you have good days."

Philosophy on the job --"Don't do a sloppy job. Do your best. It's not about tips - you appreciate people coming back."

tyeesha.dixon@baltsun.com

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