ShoeLots of talk about jobs, jobs, jobs for the infamous small businesses. But not all jobs are good jobs and as Anat Shenker-Osorio would say, how you define small businesses matters. During the debate lots of numbers were thrown around and “average people” were discussed. (BTW, wouldn’t it be fun to track down the woman who grabbed Mitt’s arm to ask about jobs and hear if this really happened and what he said to her at the time? Might he have tweaked the story a bit?)

It’s hard to get the media to write about unemployment because it’s a downer, I know it depresses the hell out of me. Recently Boing Boing put up a photo of  E. Horton Kinsman, with the job title Shoe Consultant and asked,

Share stories of your experiences with E. Horton Kinsman, Shoe Consultant, in the comments.

Here’s mine:

I remember the day my dad took me down to Buck’s Shoes on 24th street in the old south part of town. This part of town still smelled of cow manure because it was only 1/2 a mile from the stockyards. “Why do we have to go down there Daddy, it smells!” My father replied, as he always did, “That’s the smell of money!” since that was where his immigrant parents worked after coming over from Ireland. The packing plants and stockyards were one of the few places that would hire the Irish.

Buck’s Shoes was run and owned by a nice Polish family, the Stanek’s, and they employed several men who took the work very seriously. They always dressed in a suit and tie (bow ties for some) and understood that shoes were an expensive item, especially for new immigrants who often didn’t have a lot of money. They wanted people to understand that if you bought your shoes at Buck’s they were an investment in quality footwear that you would have for years.

As a kid, I knew nothing of all that, just that my dad felt loyal to this shoe store in the old neighborhood and to men who worked there.  One of whom was E. Horton Kinsman.

My dad took me there to get my first pair of “adult” shoes.
“Let’s go to Buck’s and get you some Florsheim’s” he said and off we went into the direction of cow manure smell.
When we got into the store the smell instantly changed to leather and shoe polish with just a bit of aftershave.

E. Horton, or Eddie as my dad called him, came over and greeted my dad. “Time to get my son some serious shoes.”

“You bet. He looks just like you, except the hairline,” said Eddie, making the first bald joke of the day to my dad. “Let’s get you measured up.” He got out the special measuring stick and I stood in it. “Size 8 and 1/2″ he said  “Too bad you weren’t a size 8 like your Uncle, then we could have sold you the floor samples. He’s a perfect size 8 and we always sell him last season’s shoes.”

I tried on a number of black “Florsheim’s” and I walked around in them.  I wasn’t used to hard leather and they felt very uncomfortable. “Are they supposed to feel like this?”

“Like what?” Eddie said. “Like hard and pinchy.” I replied.

“Hmm.” Eddie said, then went in the back and came out with a different kind of shoe. “This shoe is from Europe. They use different foot molds there and these might fit you better.”
I tried them on and they were great.  Of course they were much more expensive that the usual shoes, but Eddie knew my dad was a regular customer and I think he gave him a deep discount.

I saw Mr. Kinsman again the next day. I was wearing my new shoes, dress pants and blazer as I stood in the back of the church.

He was one of the many men and women who were attending my grandmother’s funeral at the Catholic Church in the south part of town. He gave me a wink when he saw me, like a lot of friends of my dad did. It was like they were telling me, “You’re one of us kid.”

When I moved away I would buy shoes from generic department stores because I didn’t understand my father’s loyalty. It seemed expensive to me when I was counting every penny. I finally realized that he wasn’t loyal to a “brand” or a store or even a neighborhood, but to the people whose livelihood depended on each other. You would see the guy who sold you your shoes at church. If you were shopping at some generic discount store to save a few bucks you knew you were hurting real people in your community.

I’m reminded that the dollars you save wouldn’t make up for the times when a special connection is needed.  What angers me is the worship of the corporate  bottom line, where money is the main deciding factor in most actions, because it doesn’t account for making sure a boy could have a decent pair of shoes on the day he was taking his grandmother to the cemetery.

Corporations don’t understand, but people like Eddie Kinsman do.