Even Shoeshine Business is Off in New York

One theory I derided earlier was the notion that that there are certain expenditures that do not get cut even when budgets are strained. The subject of my mini-rant last time was the idea that women would not cut back on going to their hair colorist. If people are cutting back on their medications, which has been reported widely, nothing is safe.

And the latest casualty is another supposedly downturn-proof expenditure, shoe shines. From the New York Times:

Professional men have their own version of the manicure, the hair coloring and the other grooming rituals that demand so much time from the confident, competent-looking businesswoman. It’s the shoeshine, a fussy rite that most women only occasionally indulge in, while many men regularly do.

The five shoeshine stands in Grand Central Terminal alone, with their stately mahogany leather and cherry wood chairs, normally polish the shoes of some 700 customers a day, the vast majority of them businessmen.

These days, says Eddie Ardaix, the owner of all five, make that 600. “The past two, three months, we’re down 100 shoeshines a day,” he said this week from behind the counter of his shoe-repair business at one of the stands, near Track 40.

Since he took over the business in 1999, he’s never seen anything like it, he said. Some customers have stopped coming altogether; even the fanatics, the customers who used to get their shoes shined five days a week, have dropped down to three.

Customers who never failed to get a shine after they had Mr. Ardaix or one of his employees repair the taps on the bottom of their shoes (for some men, a twice-monthly bit of upkeep) are putting the shoes back on and hitting the road, shine-free…..

It says one thing about the psychology of a city when its freelance illustrators and preschool teachers and computer programmers start cutting back, en masse, on their $7-a-day Starbucks habits. It’s another when those masters of the universe — the bankers, the real estate wheelers and dealers, the crowd of the shiny-shoed, the ones you see sitting back and leafing through the Wall Street Journal as someone buffs the Prada loafers still on their feet — are watching every $4 they take out of their wallet..

Now having said that, I just visited a community in the South which as of the early 1990s was one of the most affluent in the US (no joke, it had either the highest per capita or per household income). But the dot com and finance booms left it behind.

There is not much in the way of signs of stress here. Houses for sale only slightly more than you’d expect to see, housing prices have not fallen, and there is even new building. Stores and restaurants are busy, although plenty of retirees have had massive portfolio losses. so some charities are apparently have to cut back initiatives.

That is only to say there may be some communities that sat out the last decade of froth that may be less badly hit by its unravelling. But I expect them to be few in number.

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  1. Anonymous

    Edie has another problem; he recently raised his price for a shine from $3 to $4. That leaves $1 less tip for the guy shining the shoes, even if the price increase doesn’t drive the ck\ustomer away.

    Maybe he should roll prices back and see what happens.

  2. Jake

    My dog walker has actually mentioend that the “parents” of dogs she used to walk were laid off, thus she is losing customers.

  3. Benoit

    Another crash today. This is getting scary! Ms. Smith, save us! You seem to be the only one to understand this crisis. Please! :-O AAAAAAAAAAAAAaaaaaaaaaaaaah

  4. Yves Smith

    Anon of 7:18 PM,

    No, it is in the real South, and I am highly confident readers will not guess.

    To give you a teeny clue, it is technically a city but adjacent to a larger city (as in a bedroom community).

  5. Yves Smith

    Megan and Jeff,

    Nope. You have to get your head around the idea that they were top of the heap a decade and a half ago (I forget which was which, the place mentioned has highest per capita income and Beverly Hills has highest per household, or the reverse, and I think it was the reverse), and the world passed them by in a major way.

    And it is far enough back you will not find it in an Internet search.

  6. esb

    I vote for Huntsville, Alabama.

    Not only the most prosperous but the most dangerous community in America (with all of those Russian MIRVs pointing at it.)

    It ust have been fun living there, always looking up and wondering.

  7. esb

    Hey Vega, you must be voting for Chapel Hill, a cute little town with the cutest girls.

    (Those UNC girls can drink with the best, or worst, of the guys, then walk a straight line right out the door leaving the guys wondering what in heaven’s name went wrong.)

    Rich little heartbreakers, spending daddy’s money.

    The true “old south.”

  8. Lune

    People get their shoes shined five days a week?! Good Lord, that’s a mark of excessive consumption if there ever was one!

    Yves, I propose a shoe shine index to go along with your corrugated cardboard index. When the ratio of shoe shine frequency to dirt/scuff accumulation rates hits 1:1, we’ll know consumption has finally reached sustainable levels and this blog will be able to confidently call a worldwide bottom to the stock markets :-)

  9. DailyVus

    From today’s Financial Times?

    “Citigroup’s crisis deepened on Thursday as its shares continued to slump in spite of a planned investment of about $250m by Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal, its largest individual investor.”

    I think we’ve had a shift in perception when this strikes me as chump change?

    Arline Stewart

  10. Yves Smith


    This is a small city near a larger city, a bedroom community. The data you have is MSAs. Considerably larger reporting units. The report you linked to is not granular enough. Beverly Hills is not on this list either, I must note.

    The larger city is on that list, however.

  11. CrocodileChuck

    OK, OK, I’ve gotta weigh in

    Pleasanton, CA WAS the richest small town in the USA (two years back) – a ‘bedroom community’ to SFO



  12. Yves Smith

    Other boundary conditions:

    In the South (as in the state was a member of the Confederacy).

    Small city near larger city, a bedroom community. Larger city IS a MSA.

    Sat out dot com and financial bubbles (as in RE did not go up massively, and the nearby MSA is not a major banking city).

  13. Yves Smith


    You are looking at the wrong data. A city, particularly a bedroom community, is much smaller than a county. And sorry to say, none of those are the right one.

  14. russell1200

    Nothing is perfect. Birmingham Alabama has some major players on the commercial side of the construction industry. So like everyone else they will feel some of the pain.

    Before the time frame we speak of Birmingham would have been the main hub of commercial activity in the deep South. But with the civil rights issues, the international industries moved their HQs into the less controversial Atlanta when they began setting up shop to capture the New South market.

    When South Carolina’s Governor of the late 90s touched the political third rail of moving the Stars and Bars from out in front of the state capital building it was exactly to avoid a similar fate.

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