For Jose Cruz, shoe maintenance isn’t just a job; it’s a connection to his father, Luis Cruz Cerón. Cruz, 53, a resident of Lincoln Heights, is originally from Mexico City where he worked odd jobs, but mainly helped his father in his shoe repair business learning the fine art of customer service and footwear preservation.
Cruz has worked at the Tenochtitlan Shoe Shining stand, behind the Good Neighbor Pharmacy on the corner of Soto Street and Cesar E. Chavez Avenue in Boyle Heights, for 15 years and has accumulated a long list of regular clients. Before relocating his family to Lincoln Heights, Cruz called Boyle Heights home for 18 years.
Q: How did you get started working here at this stand?
A: I was originally loading trailers for a trucking company, but then the company moved out of California. So, I was out of a job for a while until someone told me that they were looking for someone to take over this stand. This stand has actually been here for over 30 years and I believe there were two other guys who worked here before, but I’m the only one that works it now.
Q: Had you ever worked in this line of work?
A: Yes, I’ve been doing this since I was a little kid. Back in Mexico my dad would take me to work with him. He worked on repairing and shining shoes. So basically, I’ve brought this all the way from Mexico. Over there in the villages or in the cities there are areas that are filled with shoe shiners, but they are syndicated. It’s different over here.
Q: I noticed the stand has changed throughout the years; it’s now mostly metal. Before it was wood and had murals painted on it. What happened?
A: Well, the wood started rotting and I had to get it fixed last year. I had another mural painted on the door though. It’s the same that was painted on before, but it’s not an exact copy. [He gets up and motions to a mural of an eagle and snake from the Mexican flag in front of a mountain landscape.] Also, I had to change the door. It used to open up, instead of how regular doors open. I had gotten robbed twice, so I decided to change it. It was easier to open the stand how I used to have it. Now, I haven’t had any problems. I’ve been surprised how much the community has changed. There has been more vigilance and order.
Q: What are your busiest days?
A: It all depends. There are days where I’ll get swamped with work and other days where it’ll be really slow. Usually, Saturday is a busy day for me. I open the stand every day though, because I have to come in regardless to make sure the area is clean. I always open the stand at 8 a.m., but I’ll close early on Sunday and Wednesday to make time for my family or if I have a doctor’s appointment. I usually close the stand around 3 p.m. though.
Q: Is this the only job you have, or do you have another job?
A: No, I don’t. Luckily, this job has given me enough to provide for me and my family. I have four children, the youngest being 21. Thankfully, I have regular clients that have been coming to me for over 10 years. They bring me a lot of work, two to three pairs to work on. It’s thanks to them that I’ve been able to keep doing this. It is tough at times, because I get up at 4 or 5 a.m., I get the bus and then I open the stand at 8 a.m. I have to come and keep the area clean.
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