We tend to visit New York to see what’s new: the new play, the new art exhibit, the audacious new building. But to me, this is a city that’s quintessentially about the old, a city filled with reminders of the past: corner delis that have stood there for 50 years, chestnut vendors in Central Park — and shoeshines in Rockefeller Center.
My first stop when I visited New York in October was the Rock, this monumental complex of art deco buildings that anchors midtown Manhattan. And walking through the maze of tunnels leading from the Rockefeller Center subway station, I looked over to see something I thought was long dead: a shoeshine shop.
The sign on the window said Eddie’s Shoeshine and Repair, and inside, amazingly, was a line of men getting a shine. I thought this went out with the Chattanooga Choo-choo, but here they were, in 2017, sitting in their business suits while shoeshine boys — which is to say, men — put a polish on their expensive Oxfords.
It was a scene that’s probably been repeated in Eddie’s Shoeshine since the Center was new, although the scene has changed a little. Nowadays businessmen are looking at their cellphones, not reading the paper or chatting with the attendant about the news of the day.
The scene was so surprising that I couldn’t resist pulling out my own phone, taking a picture, and sending it to the world on Twitter (my handle is @Travel_boomer, if you want to follow me). And as I walked away, I wondered who else had sat in those chairs over the years and decades: famous politicians, high-powered business tycoons, the stars of the NBC shows produced at Rockefeller Center … Hard to say, but looking at Eddie’s reviews on the internet, it seems like they all got a pretty good shine.