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Columbus Shoe Artist Adds New Shine to Old Trade

For year shoe shiners could be found on the street corners or just outside a gentlemen's room - polish and cloth ready to add a nice shine to a dirty wing tip. But the trade has slowed over the years. The occasional shoe shiner can be seen at an airport terminal. But WOSU reports on a Columbus man who has brought back to life the old tradition of shoe shining - except he's kicked it up a notch.

"Start from the shoe tongue. Now that was number one." That's Carey Jones. He's a shoe artist. Don't call him a shoe shiner - unless you want to be politely corrected about the difference between shoe artistry and shoe shining.

"They will shine on the shine that's on the shoe. But we going take that shine off, you know. And we going to put shoe artistry on it," Jones said.

Jones is retired from General Motors. He'd only say he's in his 60s. After years of listening to friends gripe about bad shoe shines Jones decided to do something different.

"I said to myself. I said there's gotta be something better than an old, just an ordinary shoe shine."

Jones said he took an interest in shoe shining - excuse me, shoe artistry - in 1990. Two years later he really started to try to pin down the process for the brilliant glow his shoes have today. His friends' shoes were the guinea pigs for his experiments. Then one day in 1996, after testing out his most recent products and process on a long-time friend's shoes, he said he perfected his craft.

"When I came up with the last recipe he came over and told my by golly I think you got something here," Jones said. Jones had the term shoe artistry trade named with the State of Ohio. And he's a registered with the Library of Congress. Jones's business is located in the downstairs men's room at the Westin Hotel in downtown Columbus. Upon entering the gentlemen's room one may feel as if time has reversed 40 or 50 years.

Old music plays from a radio hidden in what is essentially a broom closet. A small lamp lights Jones's work area. A shoe brush, some polish and wax, and small, glass bottles numbered one, two and three are set out on a counter. This is where Jones performs his magic: a shoe shine he says will last an entire year - no scuffs - just wipe clean with a damp cloth.

Jones said shoe artistry is not much different than a trip to the salon or barber shop.

"Here you can go and have your shoes done like you can have your hair done and like you can have your nails done. And you can determine what kind of finish you want: a bright gloss like that, or a semi-gloss, or a matte gloss - the way it looks in the store when you buy it," he said. Most people he said really like the high gloss.

"That's the American way. We like things that glitter and shine, you know?"

On this day Jones is working on a pair of shoes for Denny Fultz. Fultz owns Winston Wilson Jewelers upstairs in the hotel. Jones has been doing Fultz's shoes for about 20 years.

It's long process to do a shoe. The strings are removed. Then something that smells kind of like paint thinner is used to strip away old polish and wax, leaving the dull, bare leather. Black dye is put on the shoe to restore its depth and color.

"We're drying the shoe," Jones said holding a small blow dryer.

After all of that the shoe artistry begins. Jones is going to put a high gloss on this pair of shoes. It's a four-step process with different balms and creams. But he wouldn't share what the products are or in which order they should be used.

"I can't tell everyone what it is. You know, it's just like the Colonel Sanders. You know, I can't give you my recipe for my chicken even though everyone fry chicken, you know?"

It's not a secret that one of the products is basic Kiwi shoe polish - he takes a horse hair brush to the shoe. Then he adds other creams and uses his bare hands or a damp cloth to rub them in. Finally, the shoe artistry is complete. And, yes, the shoe is glowing quite brilliantly.

"You know you can actually see an image of yourself in this shoe, you know? Yes, I can. Now, you can't shine a shoe enough to get an image of yourself. So this is artistry," Jones said.

Jeweler Denny Fultz said Jones really is as good as he claims.

"You get a lot of people who are just polishers. But Carey is, I mean he prides himself on shoe artistry. And he truly is. If it needs to be fixed as far as water damage or anything in that sense he brings it back to a showroom condition," Fultz said.

Jones said he's not sure how many pairs of shoes he does a year - not many. After all, he said the shine lasts a year. Jones said he won't see some customers for a couple of years because they have more than one pair of shoes done at a time. "It's very difficult when they come through the door and say Carey you remember me don't you? I say well my good man the face is so familiar but the name has merely slipped my mind," he said.

Jones said foot apparel has changed over the years. And in some ways so have the people. He said his clients, generally, are the well-to-do kind: CEOs, bankers, lawyers. But he said anyone who cares about their appearance should have their shoes done. But try convincing a young man today to get shoe artistry.

"'Cause they'll walk in and say 'I'm not going to pay nobody no $25 to shine my shoe.' And I try to explain to 'em it's not a shoe shine. 'I don't care what it is it's still a shoe shine.' So those people like that you just tell 'em go on and have a good day or shoo fly don't bother me," Jones laughs.