Meet the shiners
Location: 47th and Ave of Americas NYC
Don has been shining shoes on his corner in midtown for over 20 years. In the competitive world of NYC shoe shines, Don's patter is what sets him apart. "Sir - help the economy - bail out those shoes!" Don yells out to a passing businessman. "Honey, the first step is admitting you have a problem - let me shine those shoes" he calls flirtatiously to a potential female client. Don does what it takes to keep the customers - and tips -rolling in. Don is a keen observer of human nature. He sees himself as a part shoe shiner and part sociologist, "I can tell you just about anything about a person by their shoes. I can tell if he is cheap, selfish, inconsiderate, don't give a damn, you can tell if he's got some money, you can tell if he's pretending to have money... the shoes don't lie"
When asked what society thinks of shoe shiners, Don responds "Now, shoe shining is one of those jobs that depending on where you're from, or what type of person you are, you might want to belittle me, you might think it is a dead end job, but for me -- it's freedom." Don used to work as a pastry chef but he quit his job to shine shoes. He inherited his corner from a fellow shoe shiner who decided to retire. Don has three grown children which he helped raise and educate using the money he makes shining.
Kevin Tuohy, owner Shine and Co.
Location: San Francisco + NYC
Kevin, an Iraq war veteran got into shoe shining when he met a shiner at an AA meeting who said he should give shining a try. At first he was hesitant because of the stigma attached to the job, but since he was unemployed and running low on money, he decided to give it a try. As soon as he did he was hooked. Kevin is a natural performer and sees shoe shining as a bit of performance art. Once he had caught the bug, Kevin started to recruit some of his other friends who were also working the 12 steps. "It was a blast. The clients loved us. We became known as the sober shoe shine place." Kevin says with a big laugh. "Now we have lawyers, people with Phds, artists, even a beekeeper. We all do the 12 steps to stay sober." Kevin has grown the business from one stand in San Francisco to a multi chair business which spans the nation. He is currently managing the New York City expansion which includes a stand in upscale Chelsea market and others in La Guardia and JFK.
Location: Nite Owl Barber Shop, Etobicoke ON
Even though he is only 21 years old, Vincent Zacharko has been shining shoes for over 15 years. He learned how to do an old fashioned 'spit shine' from his grandfather, who served in WWII, and he kept up his shining skills at Catholic school where "if your shoes weren't shined they would send you home." Vincent Zacharko is now plying his trade as a shoe shiner and barber's apprentice at the Nite Owl Barber shop. He started shining shoes after a car accident which left him unable to stand for long periods of time. While Vincent doesn't intend to shine shoes for the rest of his life (he is currently taking English classes at Ryerson University) he has found a job he can do which he really enjoys. Vincent has a large following on instagram where he posts his before and after shoe shine pictures under the name @vincentzed
Yuya Hasegawa, Owner of Brift H
Location: Location: Brift H , Aoyama Tokyo
Yuya Hasegawa is a stylish, young Tokyo native with a big dream; "In 10 or 20 years, I'm hoping at least one elementary school kid in the classroom will say he wants to grow up to be a shoe shiner." Yuya started shining on the streets of Tokyo when he was 21 years old. He is one of the few street shiners in the world who has managed to elevate the craft from a basic service received on the street and to a thriving, luxury business.
Yuya explains the idea was to elevate shoe shining and make it a respected profession. In this posh club-like space, shoe shiners stand behind the bar polishing while the clients sit shoe-less, sipping green tea from a champagne flute, while they wait for their shoes to be shined. Yuya explains that he designed the interior of his shop specifically to "even out" the level of eye contact between customer and shoe shiner. Shoe shiners are always looking up at their customers while shining their shoes," he explained. By working at a counter, you can deal with their customers on an equal basis.
Brift H is an oasis of peace in the busy city. Business men can relax in the lounge's plush chairs as their shoes are given a superior shine. With the success of Brift H, Yuya hopes to bring his new brand of upscale shining bars to the rest of the world.
Location: Plaza San Francisco, La Paz
Miguel Angel Sumi, or Baloo as he is called on the street, started working as a candy vendor when he was 7 years old in order to help bring money in for his family after the death of his father. By 13 he was able to save enough to buy a shoe shine box. At 35 years old, Baloo has been shining shoes for over 20 years. Baloo is the president of a shiner-run foundation which provides lunches and support for the local shiners. The foundation is also working to change popular attitudes toward the profession. While Baloo is no longer ashamed of the work he does, he still wears the mask because he feels the anonymity gives him a certain amount of power vis- a-vis his clients. He describes it as a type of armour - "with the mask the insults bounce right off' he says Location: Placa San Franc
Sylvia Duran Lopez
Location: Mercado de flores La Paz
Sylvia started shining when she was 16 years old. Sylvia works 7 days a week to support her family and create a better future for her 4 children. Her two eldest David (7 years) and Sharon (5 years) are in school. She brings the two youngest with her to work every day since she cannot afford a sitter. Sylvia was the first female shoe shiner in La Paz and she says that despite the hard work, she likes the job. "I like when the shoes are shiny" she says with a toothless grin which makes her look much older than her 29 years. Sylvia has never worn a mask. She explains that people see the mask and they think that shiners are criminals. "It gives a bad impression. I want to show my face so people know who I am and know I am honest and have nothing to hide.
Location: In front of the McDonalds Marsala Tita St. Sarajevo
In Sarajevo a city which is still healing from the longest siege of a capital city in the history of modern warfare, we meet shoe shiner RAMIZ HASANI. Ramiz is the son of local shoe shining legend 'Uncle Misha'. At 64 years old, he decided to take up shoe shining his father's death in April of 2014. His father would have been the last street shiner in the city had he not decided to take up the trade. Ramiz's father could be found every day throughout the brutal siege of the city, shining shoes in the spot he had occupied for over 40 years. The simple act of stopping to get their shoes shined gave people a sense of hope during those dark times. "To see him sitting and waiting for customers while everything around him was falling apart was a surreal scene." says a customer. "You could go and get a shine and have a laugh and you felt, for just that time, things could be normal. It gave people strength to endure the horror of the war."
Ramiz, a retired rail worker, now sits in his father's old spot shining shoes. He uses his father's tools and wears the same black felt hat his father wore. His first day shining was very emotional for Ramiz and his father's old clients. "When customers say they're wearing shoes my dad used to shine, I take special care, and polish slowly" says Ramiz. "For that moment, when I am shining the shoes he touched, it feels like my father has been brought back to life."
Shining shoes has brought real joy to Ramiz' life and has helped him, and the city, heal from the loss of their beloved "Misha".