James Cole, 50 years the Shoe Shine king

Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter

Over 17 years after West Side writer John Fountain lamented an end to the craft of shoe shining in his New York Times column, James Cole quietly celebrated 50 years at his Shoe Shine King store at 338 N. Central Ave. in Austin. 

"Just another day," he said. "We're open seven days a week." On Sunday, he caters to ministers who stop in to get their shoes shined before church. The rest of the week he, his son Vernon and the rest of the longtime staff fix and shine all kinds of shoes — from sneakers to the spiffiest two-tone wingtips. The modest little store is just like an old-school barbershop, except customers include both men and women. Don Jackson, producer of the gospel Stellar Awards, is one of Shine King's notable patrons.

Cole went to Marshall High School and started out as an entrepreneur, shining shoes on the street. He ran a second shoeshine shop at Madison and Kedzie,  and a contracting business for 17 years at 5634 W. Chicago, specializing in roofing: "I watched my workers to make sure we did things right. A guaranteed roof is only as good as the person who puts it up." 

Over the years, he estimates, he's trained around 60 percent of the city's shoe shiners. Before they died, his mother and father both worked for him at the shop. He hired guys returning from prison who became reliable employees. He has no plans to retire; no one has stepped up to take over running Shoe Shine King. He lives eight blocks from the store and has always loved the Austin neighborhood, he said. 

Cole owns the building and rents out sections to other shopkeepers. It's in his best interest for them to succeed and pay rent, so when he was up to it, he's served as security guard. A grocery in his building recently closed due to criminal activity—a trend lately on the West Side. He says police have not been as helpful as they should. 


Love the News?

Become our partner in independent community journalism

Thanks for turning to Austin Weekly News and AustinWeeklyNews.com. We love our thousands of digital-only readers. Now though we're asking you to partner up in paying for our reporters and photographers who report this news. It had to happen, right?

On the plus side, we're giving you a simple way, and a better reason, to join in. We're now a non-profit -- Growing Community Media -- so your donation is tax deductible. And signing up for a monthly donation, or making a one-time donation, is fast and easy.

No threats from us. The news will be here. No paywalls or article countdowns. We're counting on an exquisite mix of civic enlightenment and mild shaming. Sort of like public radio.

Claim your bragging rights. Become a digital member.

Donate Now

Reader Comments

No Comments - Add Your Comment

Note: This page requires you to login with Facebook to comment.

Comment Policy

Facebook Connect

Answer Book 2019

To view the full print edition of the Austin Weekly News 2019 Answer Book, please click here.

Quick Links

Sign-up to get the latest news updates for Austin and Garfield Park.

MultimediaContact us
Submit Letter To The Editor
Place a Classified Ad

Classified Ad