“Courtney Thomas—they call me C,” he says when asked his name. He shines shoes at Downtown Barber Shop, 745 S. Virginia St., next door to the Ahora newspaper office.
How long have you been doing this?
At this same location?
No, I started out at Mission Car Wash … and I built quite a clientele out there. They liked it because it was a comfortable place where they could come relax, get their car done, get their nails done, and wait on their car to get done. They would [also] walk in and drop off because I had drop-off service.
When did you learn the craft?
My father was a minister and a mortician [in Detroit]. He used to set his shoes in the hall and that meant, “Do them.” Then I got my first pair of black shoes, and I loved them because they always bought you brown shoes when you were a kid. He gave me a shoe box and some polish, and I kept them up pretty well when I had to go somewhere or something, so that’s how I kind of started out. I always felt that any man in business—any man, period, going anywhere, no matter what he does, from a common working man to a lawyer to the doctor to the senator to the judge should look decent with his attire. That’s how I feel about it.
You can make a living doing this?
Well, you can do pretty fair. I mean, you’re not going to get rich, but you know, I’m retired, so it gives me something to do.
You don’t look—
I’ll be 54 this year.
How long has this barber shop been here on South Virginia?
I think a year sometime this month because they burned out of the Mizpah.
How did you connect with them?
Well, I left Mission Car Wash because they sold it, and I was looking for a place to go. And I called, and I said, “Well, how about if you guys have a shoe shine guy there?” They said, “Sure, come on down.” So I met Carl Pennington and Neal Burnell and Andrew Campbell Moss, and they welcomed me. We thought it would be a good setting where you could come and get your hair cut and get your shoes done, and I do everything leather. It kind of fit in when I met these guys. They welcomed me, they embraced me to come.
Did any of your old customers find you here?
A lot of them have come. And some of them I haven’t seen in a while, I guess, but they’re out on that end of town. But I called all of them to let them know that I had relocated.
Do you ever get unusual requests, colors, say?
I dye, condition, and bring back color change. But I do everything leather, from a horse saddle to a leather coat. I dye, recondition and bring them back to life.