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Leon Bibb reports: Shoe shine kiosk at Cleveland Hopkins Airport keeps in step with walk-in traffic

Shoe shine specialists add a high-gloss polish to concourses at Cleveland Hopkins Airport

CLEVELAND — It is a musical sound as a soft cloth in the sure hands of a professional pops on a piece of leather. Added to that is a rhythmic brushing adds an accent.   The sound, indeed, is musical although the professional is not beating a drum, but instead polishing a shoe.

At Cleveland Hopkins Airport, the men and women who work Cleveland Shine shoe shine kiosk are adept at their trade.  

"In a day's time, we see about 150 customers," said Curtis English, owner of the three shoe shine stands at the airport.

When most airline travelers seem to walk the concourses in sneakers or flip-flops, there are enough people in other shoes which demand polish. Marshall Hunter, Carmen Santiago and Lavelle Lawshea had the polishing duties the day I got into a chair in their stand.

Looking at a pair of oxfords worn by a man waiting for his flight, Lawshea said he could, "Bring 'em back to life." His movements were quick as be cleaned the shoes.  

"Leather is just like that skin we have on our bodies," he said. "You put lotion on your skin to keep it moisturized and to keep your skin from cracking. Same way with shoe leather."

Cleveland Shine has been a mainstay at the airport for 19 years. English, who owns a magazine and gift shop at the airport, said someone suggested he look into a shoe shine operation. 

"I had no idea the concept of shoe shining in airports was popular until I did some research and found it could be a successful business," he said.

All his business is walk-in. Every day, about 30,000 people pass through the airport.  

"It's great to know we have this service at the airport for businessmen and businesswomen that are coming through on a regular basis or on a one-time basis," said Tina LaForte, vice president of Fraport, which is the managing company for all non-aviation businesses in the airport concourses.

During the height of the airport day, there was a steady stream of customers plopping down in the three chairs in each of the three kiosks. Every shoe shiner kept eyes on shoes as passengers hurriedly walked through the airport, bound for airline gates or baggage claim.

Santiago's hands moved quickly over my brown oxfords, which were in dire need of a cleaning and a polishing.  

"It's all about that friction," she said as she moved the cloth expertly over the toes of my shoes. 

"All you want is a well-conditioned shoe and you get that shine instantly," she added, flashing a beam across her face, obviously pleased with the job she had done on my kicks.

Those who got the shine paid the $6 and stepped off the chairs showing more spring in their steps as they stepped through the concourse.

Almost instantly, another customer found the empty chair. Hunter was already surveying the shoe and answering the customer's question, who asked if he could bring a dull shoe back to a shine.  

"Oh yeah; I can bring any shoe back to life."

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