The Shoeshine Boy

THE "SHOESHINE BOY" was another interesting and constant troubadour of the streets. Because Brooklyn's population was quite varied in color, some looked to be Anglo-Saxon, some were tan, some were dark brown and others were black. But all possessed the gay exuberance of youth and usually bounced merrily along the streets in the eternal quest for nickels and dimes calling, "Shoeshine Boy! Mister, want a shine this morning?"
 
All a boy needed to become a shoeshine boy was the desire and the equipment, which was usually a homemade wooden box large and sturdy enough to hold a man's foot. Enterprising boys would hand carve the shape of a shoe sole from a piece of wood and mount it on their boxes for the convenience of their customers.
 
Shoe polish, both liquid as well as paste, of the two basic shoe colors - brown and black - was standard equipment. The polish was cheap and could be bought for five or ten cents. To do the shining job, old cotton or wool rags were used. These were usually picked up at home from a mother's scrap bag.
 
After gathering the necessary equipment, the possessor of the box became a businessman plying his trade up and down the streets of Brooklyn. Business was most brisk on Saturday evenings and Sunday mornings because men were off from work, had leisure time and wanted their shoes shined for church going and visiting friends on the Sabbath.
 
Many boys were real artists at this job and could whip a shoe with a rag until it almost resembled a looking glass. Their fingers would greedily gouge out the paste, vigorously apply it to a shoe and then move the rag back and forth in a rhythmic beat making the process look fun. If the patron seemed interested or amused by his chant, a few more rhythmically inclined shiners would cut a step or two while wielding the rag back and forth to make the procedure more interesting.
 
A few shoeshine parlors were on corners and barber shops operated shoeshine chairs for their clientele, but many young boys in Brooklyn maintained a rather lucrative business for themselves, moving up and down the streets calling "Shine, Mister?"

Table of Contents