Star, February 16,1996
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,
to have found her niche.
" Maybe I'm going through a mid-life crisis, but I'm happy doing what I
says of Penny Loafers Shoe Shine Company, the business she set up last fall
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
it. He sprawls out his lanky legs with big, black Caterpillar brand boots,
dots of white paint.
Simmons places them on two brass foot rests. "I'm sorry, but we might
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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