..........15th anniversary

Toronto Star, February 16,1996

Polished performer After years of trying other jobs, Penny Simmons has finally found her niche, offering tender, loving care to down-at-the-heels footwear

By Seema Mehra
Special to The Star

Penny Simmons' career is taking on a new shine.

" I take great pride in what I do," she says as she prepares to put in another polished performance shining shoes at a downtown office tower.

Simmons ushers a man in a navy suit into a wooden booth and hands him a Fortune magazine to read.

" I can feel it working away, kinda like a massage," he says as Simmons rubs and scrubs. "I polish them frequently but I don't always have the time to do it properly," he says, pointing to his oxblood loafers.

After years of working at everything from stockbroker to caterer, Simmons, 40, seems
to have found her niche.

" Maybe I'm going through a mid-life crisis, but I'm happy doing what I do," Simmons
says of Penny Loafers Shoe Shine Company, the business she set up last fall the
TD Centre.

Simmons got the idea of shining shoes from a trade show she attended while on a trip through the mid-western United States.

" I didn't really know what I wanted to do when I grew up," she says. "This had all the
right elements for me."

Simmons learned her new trade from a U.S. company.

" For a complete cleaning, I start off with saddlesoap like this," she explains, taking a shaving brush and lathering a customer's scuffed tan loafers. "It's good for cleaning leathers."

Next she takes a pink toothbrush out of a built-in drawer in her booth that contains brushes, polishes and other materials.

Philip Alexander, an employee of the Royal Bank, is entranced as Simmons transforms his limp loafers.

Careful not to stain his tan socks with polish, she inserts old playing cards between his shoes and ankles.

" This is what I call five-card draw," she jokes. With great finesse, she applies a soft conditioning polish.

Simmons flicks a lighter out of her drawer. "Don't panic. I'm just burning off some threads that are hanging from the seams," she says.

Finally she whips out a chamois rag and squirts it with water. "This is what you call
a spit shine a la Evian."

Alexander is pleased. He walks away, trying to see his reflection in his shoes.
Simmons calls what she does a "feel-good service." Everything is done by hand,
with no electric brushes.

" If they're relaxing, reading the paper, hey, I don't want them to all of a sudden think they're at the dentist."

There's not much Simmons can't clean. Her list of services and prices ranges from a $1 ' 'touch-up and buff-up," which means trimming sole edges and brushing them off, to the deluxe $5 "premier shine," which includes a thorough clean, polish and massage.
She does sneakers, golf shoes, women's pumps and all kinds of boots. And "yes, Virginia, you can get out salt stains," she says.

She recalls doing a fellow's red cowboy boots. "He was from Texas and told me it
was the first time he had ever got them polished."

But her clients aren't all male.

" Women do like getting their shoes shined, too," notes Simmons, who works all day Monday to Friday. "Actually, more and more women are starting to come to me
because I'm a female. I think they feel comfortable about that."

John Hendry, a messenger, steps up to the booth, ducking his head so he won't bump
it. He sprawls out his lanky legs with big, black Caterpillar brand boots, stained with
dots of white paint.

Simmons places them on two brass foot rests. "I'm sorry, but we might have some
trouble removing the paint," she tells him. Several minutes later, his boots look like new.
" Thanks," he says. "I'll bring all my boots next time."

Simmons, who recently enlisted the services of a business adviser - "you have to know your shortcomings" - is working on expanding the business at other locations.
" I got my entrepreneurial skills from my father - he founded Braun Electric in North America. He'll be 80 in May.

" My mother was the one always telling me to conform."

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