FRONT ROYAL – Trey Johnson walked right past his own storefront many times before he knew he’d one day set up his own shoe shine stand downtown.
Squished on to East Main Street, Shoe Shine on Main takes up less than 100 square feet in the historic Weaver’s Department Store building where a newsstand once stood. Daily commuters, shoppers and visitors can still pick up a copy of the paper but they can also get their shoes worked on while they read it.
Johnson, who opened the business earlier this month, said he had been planning on starting a shoe shine operation for years but wasn’t sure when, where or how it would all come together. In a collision of coincidences, the government shutdown that closed out 2018 and kicked off the new year was the catalyst Johnson needed.
“I had just taken a job with a federal contractor… and then we had the government shutdown,” Johnson said. “I had this little window of time here when I was just looking around places and that’s when I found this here.”
Johnson said he sees Front Royal as a place rich in culture and, as a complement to that culture, a harkening back to a bygone age of shoe shining was something that will fit well downtown.
“It’s something that I always enjoyed seeing the outcome of it, whatever the customer took from it. It’s not in many places anymore,” he said. “I thought, we have all this great culture here, and it needs it.”
Getting your shoes shined, Johnson said, isn’t just good for the shoe, it’s good for the relationships men so often overlook. While Johnson is ready to shine any shoe that walks through his front door, he did acknowledge it is a business that caters almost exclusively to men.
A tightly defined market — men and those men who are wearing leather shoes as opposed to canvas or trainers — provides its own unique set of challenges and opportunities, Johnson said.
“Guys, in general, we don’t have a lot of relationships,” Johnson said. “The shoe shine, it does allow for that to happen … between your barber and your mechanic and your doctor, there aren’t a lot of relationships guys build. A shoe shine stand is one for a community to build around.”
Johnson is offering four levels of service for shoes – the first level is a free cleaning that any passerby can take advantage of. The goal, Johnson said, was to stay busy and be a place for people to stop and get a pick-me-up, something to feel good about if they’re having a bad day.
Leather goods — and shoes in particular — Johnson said, serve as markers for the type of person he is interacting with as well as sentimental tokens. Taking care of those tokens and extending their life is an important service he said he wants to provide.
“I think anyone that puts that effort into getting it done, it’s something they enjoy wearing,” Johnson said. “If I look into my closet, I can see the shoe I wore to my friend’s wedding, that I wore to my wedding.
“I think for some leather goods, shoes, watches, bags, they’re sentimental,” he continued. “People get to see something brought back to life.”