Before Jessie Brown shines the shoes he cleans them with a little water and soft soap.
By Eileen Bailey
WEST POINT -Polishing off lunch Monday took a while for Jessie Brown, who was busy meeting and greeting almost every person by name as he or she entered a local restaurant.
The residents spoke and inquired about his health. Jokingly Brown told they he plans to retire. “They know I’m just kidding,” Brown said. “I’m a bit of a politician.”
Brown, 45, said he loves his job as a shoeshine man too much to quit. Since Brown was 10 years old he has shined shoes for money. “I just started out and enjoyed it,” Brown said.
Before he started his 28-year career at Nix Barbershop on East Main in West Point, Brown would set up shop on the sidewalks of town. Brown, who is one of five children, said his older brother taught him how to shine shoes.
Burt Nix, owner of Nix Barbershop, said in days past, most barbershops had shoe shiners. Nix said his barbershop is one of the only ones in West Point where shoe shines are still offered today.
Customers, who wish a $1.25 shine, can either have it done while they get their hair cut or can leave their shoes at the shop, Brown said. Or customers can just come to sit in Brown’s chair and get a shine.
Brown also goes to businesses in the downtown area and picks up shoes – and in some cases, it’s the shoes they are wearing. Brown said he has left some shoeless for the 30 minutes it takes to get a shine job done. He delivers them when he is done.
The West Point native said he has never kept track of the shoes he has shined, but Brown said he does “a lot during a day.”
When Brown, who works from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day, first started shining shoes, he charged 35 cents a pair. He steadily increased the price over the years. For a while, he said, he just charged $1. But in January he increased the price to $1.25 a pair to keep up with the cost of polish.
As a customer had his hair trimmed Monday, Brown began the process of shining his shoes. After dipping his worn brush into a small amount of water, he then dipped it into soft soap.
“You have to clean the shoe first,” he said, lathering the soap into a white mixture on the shoe. After cleaning the shoe he dipped his weathered fingers into the KIWI shoe polish and then rubbed his fingers all over the shoe. A bigger brush was used to work the polish into the shoe deeper.
The final touch came when he used a rag to polish the shoe. Taking the rag in his hands he used quick strokes to take away the polish. The once dull shoe now gleamed brightly under the fluorescent light of the barbershop.
As he worked he took, and dished out, good-natured teasing from customers and his bosses. “I love being with people,” he said. “I especially like to give the kids their bubble gum.”
Brown, with graying hair and beard, is a slight man with a soft voice who said he always tries to be happy. He said he enjoys his work so much that after he had a heart attack he was back at work within just a few days.
Customers said the shop wouldn’t be the same without Brown. “Jessie is the last of the shoe shiners,” said John Early of West Point. “He is one of a kind.”