Vegas shoe shiners ‘survived COVID-19 and we still do sneakers’

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Wade Vandervort

Keith Bryant shines Christopher Helmick’s sneakers on the Aria on Monday, September 20, 2021.

Keith Bryant’s first shift as a shoe shiner on the Las Vegas Strip more than 20 years ago produced around $ 150 in suggestions over three hours.

He loved the excitement of exercising and interacting with the guests on the Sahara this nighttime weekend and was addicted to the occupation. He would observe his father’s footsteps in the business.

“Sometimes people play with me and ask me if I’m going to make what they wear shine, but I will make anything shine,” said Bryant, a longtime Select Shoe worker. “I will also make a leather wallet or a belt. If it’s faux leather, it doesn’t matter, I will. I will do what I have to do and I will adapt to everything.

As Bryant sat at his booth in the Aria ready for his next buyer, he couldn’t help but recall another era in trading. He didn’t talk about the Rat Pack period – although it was actually a time when men craved shoe polish more than then – but quite often in the late ’90s. .

“People dressed a lot more to come to Vegas, man,” he said. “People are more laid back now. I had a Saturday night recently where no one was sitting.

Part of the drop is due to conference trade and world travel is still recovering from pandemic closures. For the occasion, Australian guests typically wear cowboy boots they’d rather have shined, said Bryant.

Bryant, a native of Las Vegas, spends much of his time at a rented booth inside a men’s room near the Aria foyer or at a booth in New York-New York.

Select Shoe also rents a home at the Las Vegas Convention Center, the Golden Nugget, and the Venetian Convention and Expo Center. Another company, Goodfellows Shoeshine & Accessories, has a presence in various properties, along with McCarran International Airport.

Shelley Bonner Carson, owner of Goodfellows, said business is also currently sluggish for his company. In addition to its stalls at McCarran – in Airport Lobbies C and D – Goodfellows has homes at a number of resorts on the Strip and at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.

“We survived COVID-19 and we are still making shoes,” Bonner Carson said. “Summers are generally terrible for us, in part because people are very laid back, often wearing sandals and tennis shoes. We hope that the conventions will come back in full force this fall and in 2022. ”

Bonner Carson said there was always curiosity in the service. This is proven by the fact that representatives from Resorts World recently requested the rental of a house for a shoe shine booth, she said.

Everyone seems to be scrambling for customers.

If Bryant sees anyone wearing sneakers that need to be waxed, he immediately speaks up. Take Christopher Helmick, who was in Michigan town for the Society of Corporate Compliance and Ethics convention on the Aria and wore a pair of leather dress sneakers.

As Helmick glanced at Bryant’s booth – which consisted of two buyer’s chairs and two drawers that housed everything from a horsehair brush to various boxes of shoe polish, wax and of leather-based conditioners – the minnow got to work.

“Do you want a shine? Bryant asked.

Helmick did it. The convention represented his first substantial travel outing since the start of the pandemic. He wanted to look good.

Later, Bryant will reveal that he focused on Helmick because of his sneakers – which Bryant notices at all times – and the conference lanyard he wore.

Helmick’s Shard took about 5 minutes and is worth $ 12.

Scott Hansen, owner of Select Shoe, said business is slow, but he doesn’t think it will be a big blow to the business because “there will always be people who care about how they look.”

“When you meet someone, you first look at their hand, because you reach out to shake them, and you do once on them starting with the shoes,” he added.

Hansen said the Las Vegas shoe-shine business, which has long trusted conference businesses, began its decline during the recession following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

“Until September 11, we were gangbusters,” Hansen said. “After that, the flights were canceled, the conventions were canceled and when they came back people started to dress up. Congress attendees have not changed that since. People always wore costumes at a show, but they don’t do that as much. “

When he started in the ’90s, Hansen said most customers wore both dress sneakers or cowboy boots. Now, he said, all types of shoes are processed.

“We make athletic shoes, suede, oil tanned leathers, we do it all,” Hansen said. “In our current society, however, it seems people will just buy a new pair of shoes if they need a shine. We have become a disposable society. As a society, we are also becoming more laid back in general. This was reinforced by the pandemic. “

Shiners is also working on visitor-dropped sneakers, which feature celebrity and athlete gadgets.

Bryant proudly says he has shone in the sneakers of people in every state, many international locations and some celebrities, as well as Drew Carey and former Dallas Cowboys quarterback “Dandy” Don Meredith.

“It was fun because I’m a die-hard Cowboys fan,” said Bryant.

And, now, throughout the crisis, he is keen to add additional memories to a long career. “I’ll do whatever I have to do,” said Bryant. “I just hope conventions come back in full force because that’s how I eat.”


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