Sole Sister

Victoria shoe shiner celebrates her historical year of scrubbing

Jill Goodson

Jill Goodson

Victoria shoe shiner celebrates her historical year of scrubbing

Jill Goodson knows shoes. She’s polished more than 700 pairs of them in the last year that she’s, legally, been able to work on the streets of Victoria — that breaks down to roughly 450 women’s and 950 men’s feet.

Goodson’s job is about more than just footwear, though — it has become a political statement. And thanks to one willing business that carved out a spot for Victoria’s only current shoe shiner, Goodson has left her mark on thousands of Victorians looking for “jazzed up shoes.” Now, as she celebrates her first summer anniversary of shining, she’s hoping to track down the historic stories of Victoria’s past shiners for an archival project she’s doing on one of the city’s most varnished trades.

The politics of shoes

Last fall, Goodson made headlines when she set up Jill’s Jazzed Up Shoes, shined by donation on a city sidewalk on the north side of Fort, only to be evicted from her location. Due to city bylaws, Goodson’s business didn’t qualify for the $25 busker permit, since entertainers and not allowed to sell a service. And, as long as she was operating on the sidewalk, she wouldn’t be allowed a business licence, as the city prohibits businesses on public property (save a few grandfathered food carts). Not to be outshined, Goodson collected more than 220 names on a petition and took her case to city council two times — all council could do, however, was advise her to try to find a business that would allow her to set up on private property. She did.

“Everyone got to know me, even the bylaw officer, and he hated having to kick me out,” says Goodson, a Jill-of-many-trades and former high school art teacher. “Everyone wanted me to succeed — there’s a demand for this trade.”

Despite the bylaw scuffs, Goodson was able to keep up her business, thanks to the use of Quadra Pacific Properties Corp.’s privately owned space at 747 Fort. Since last Labour Day, the back courtyard breezeway beside Brown’s Florist has become a shellacked haven to business soles, tourists and locals looking for a little buff (as did St. Andrew’s Square for a few colder winter months). And, with her $100 business licence in hand, Goodson has elbowed herself a glossy reputation in town.

“We’ve been downtown for a long time so we’ve seen the trends come and go, and Jill really became a target for the city,” says Jai Stewart, manager of Quadra Pacific. “I couldn’t reconcile how panhandling is so accepted here, and how they wrapped Jill in red tape. Really, we’re providing a service to our tenants, and nothing makes me happier than seeing our people dropping off bags of shoes for Jill to shine. We’re grateful to see her receive support.”

Steve Chubby from Island Savings is one of the many customers Goodson receives one sunny afternoon. This is Chubby’s first shine, though he’s passed by Jill’s Jazzed Up Shoes many days on his way to work.

“Usually, I just do my own, but this is great — thank you!” says Chubby to Goodson as he admires his soles and struts back to the office.

The whole process takes less than five minutes, and Goodson puts on her sheen of show with every scrub and polish. For some, the shine plays a small role compared to the company and camaraderie Goodson offers during the time she spends on someone’s shoes. While she is displaying her tool box and explaining what all the different instruments do, dozens of past patrons stop to say hello and wish her a good day — one man in a wheelchair rolls up for a casual chat, even while Goodson is working. It’s a service that can become an addiction, she says, and it’s an addiction she supports.

“I’m not really like a busker — I’m more like a plumber or a window washer … People talk to me,” she says. “I have women stop by who say ‘I didn’t really want my shoes shined, I just wanted to chat,’ but the shine is a bonus — and, if you care for your shoes, they will last longer.”

Sole service

Goodson has more motivation behind her business than just making spare change. While she’s a people person by nature, she takes great pride in preserving fine leathers, and even has materials to service vegan and Gortex footwear. Her favourite shoes, though, are Australian Blundstones, which are often run ragged, then shine up nearly new. People are always impressed with those, she says.

And there’s a bit of history to Goodson’s talents. From the time she was a child, one of her weekly chores as the oldest of three siblings was to shine the family’s shoes. Then, at age 11, Goodson set her sights on a beautiful new riding saddle for her horse. With her father’s encouragement, Goodson set up her own shining business and went door-to-door offering her services. By the time she finished one block, she had paid for her saddle.

“All it takes is for one person to see someone, say, their boss, getting his shoes shined, and suddenly everyone wants to do it,” Goodson says. “And, now, people notice when I’m not here. Sometimes I’ll be gone for a day or two due to weather, and people will come up to me all day long asking where I’ve been.”

Location makes a lot of difference. At St. Andrew’s Square, Goodson would see people donating $20 for her service, while some offer a twoonie in her new location. While the average rate for a shine falls in the $5 to $10 range, all Goodson’s work is weather permitting, so it’s still not a gig that pays the rent. To that effect, and with all the cruise ship traffic of the coming months, Goodson is planning to appeal to the city again to reconsider its strict regulations and allow her to carry her portable business around.

Portable businesses may be of a time past, just like some of the stories Goodson has heard from customers. Back in the day, one client used to get a quarter every Sunday from her mom — 15 cents of that was to be spent on a shine before church at Tony’s Shoe Shine Shop, and the rest could be spent on candy. Goodson has dedicated much of her time looking into city archives to find other stories like that, but now she’s asking the community to come forward with their historic memories.

“Even young people today give more concern to their appearance, and there are a lot of people who become regular customers,” says Goodson. “Shining your shoes is a feel-good thing to do, and it’s about caring for yourself. You might brush your teeth every day, but it’s not the same as going to a dentist for a good cleaning. This is proper shoe hygiene.” M

To share your historic shiner tales, contact: johgoodson@gmail.com. Find her most days, 11am-4pm, at 747 Fort.          

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