Recently, a memory surfaced of a time when I was in Atlanta, Georgia, Woodruff Park to be exact, waiting for dear friend to meet me. The weather was a perfect combination of the Fall sun mingling with a hint of the coming winter. It was a vibrant memory – like it was yesterday. I was sitting on a park bench, leaning over my knees and watching the pigeons lurk. A shadow reached me first, then I glanced up to see a skinny, old, black man wearing a soiled apron, smiling down at me graciously blocking the sun. “If you’re gonna wear nice shoes, you should take care of them – at least keep them polished,” he said. I smiled back at him, then sheepishly looked down to examine my Circa Joan & David Mary Jane heels that I was wearing. I felt a little ashamed because he was right. I grew up polishing my daddy’s shoes for church, why hadn’t I thought to polish my own shoes? He made a gesture and said, “Follow me.” That day, that kind man told me how to care for my shoes, that shoe shines and maintenance wasn’t just something that men should do, and then he shined my little shoes at his shoe shine station in a barber shop outside of the Five Points Marta station.
First Thing’s First: The Investment in Quality
He was right. If you are going to wear nice shoes, you should treat them like investments. If you are investing in shoes, you must be concerned with quality as well as maintenance. “The best place to start when caring for your shoes is to buy good quality leather to begin with,” advises Thomas Washington, owner and operator of Washington’s Shoe Shop in Goldsboro, N.C., “They may cost more, but you know what I always say? ‘The most expensive pair of shoes you can buy is a cheap pair.’”
Washington, who inherited the business from his father, knows all about quality and craftsmanship. In fact, he blatantly advises against man-made materials. “Man-made uppers are often a sign of poor quality. Most man-made shoes have soles that have been glued on instead of stitched which makes some shoes non-repairable. Washington admits to having turned customers away because the continuous repair would be too costly.
Valerie Feimster Montgomery, who owns the online ebay shoe store, AgapeGod Shoes and Things, agrees with Washington. “I sell new and gently worn shoes on my site. When I’m looking for shoes, I inspect everything: the leather, the lining, the soles, the stitching – all of it.” Montgomery, who has shipped shoes as far as Australia and China, believes that quality is an investment. “Sometimes I run across shoes that I know are older shoes, but they are well-made and high quality. Someone will want them,” she says. “I always look at the craftsmanship. That’s the shoe I want to sell on my website and people look for that.”
Caring for Your Investments
Buying shoes can be costly. It makes little sense to spend money on quality shoes and not take care of your investments. There are a few things that Washington recommends to care and protect your shoes :
- Have taps put on shoes before wearing them to prolong use
- Keep shoes polished with a good cream polish
- Inspect shoes after each wear and wipe them down with a terry cloth
- Use mink oil to condition leather
- When storing shoes, insert cedar shoe trees
- When traveling, always use cloth bags to protect the leather
I took the advice of that kind man in Atlanta and began caring for my shoes like they were investments and not simply fashion statements. That advice has helped my Mary Janes, which are still in my closet in a terry cloth bag, last decades. I think he’d be proud.
Watch Thomas Washington work his magic on a shoe scuff and shoe shine.
Washington’s Shoe Shop is located at 613 E. Elm Street, Goldsboro, NC, phone: (919) 735-1539
Sharon Mervin is an editor of Carolina Lily Magazine. Email her at: firstname.lastname@example.org