Maryland Shoe Shine Stand Re-Opens to Fanfare

Shoe shine stands have pretty much disappeared. But one re-opened this week in the Maryland state house after a four-year absence.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

It's a new era at the Maryland State House after a four-year hiatus due to a -what amounted to a death in the family. The capitol's shoeshine stand is back in business with a new proprietor and a new attitude.

Joel McCord of member station WYPR has the story.

JOEL McCORD: The reopening was such a big deal that House Speaker Michael Busch and Senate President Mike Miller drew a gaggle of reporters when they mounted the twin chairs.

Mr. DINO WRIGHT (Entrepreneur): ...back old times, sit there a number of times.

McCORD: The stand has been sort of a memorial to Jimmy Chambers who ran it for 50 years. When he died, statehouse officials kept the stand intact and placed a framed copy of Chambers' obituary on one of the chairs. Then delegate Michael Vaughn spotted Donald Dino Wright's shoeshine stand at a Washington hotel last spring and asked him if he was interested in another location.

Mr. MICHAEL VAUGHN (Maryland State Delegate): I just think that when we're here in session, oftentimes we are meticulously dressed, and part of good grooming is having a good shine on your shoes.

McCORD: As Wright was setting up this week, he referred to his predecessor as the legendary James Chambers.

Mr. WRIGHT: I never met him, but I've heard often heard a lot about him and I'm honored to succeed his legacy.

McCORD: Now, Wright is a far cry from what you might think of as the guy at the shoeshine stand. For one thing, he has a liberal arts degree from the State University of New York at Buffalo and he is immaculately dressed in a pinstriped suit and tie with a coordinated pocket square.

Mr. WRIGHT: I've always been on a mission to dispel the stereotypes and the way this particular service has been typecast historically over the years.

McCORD: As a customer mounts the elevated chair, Wright sheds his jacket and leans into his work.

Mr. WRIGHT: Now, scramble the water on the saddle soap. Take a dabber and a mix with soapy solution here and kind of do that, you know?

McCORD: And he uses only thin coats of wax before he turns to the brushes. When he's finished, the shoes look as good as if they were new.

For Maryland lobbyists and lawmakers alike, it's a relief to hear the pop of the polish rag and the swish of the brushes again.

For NPR News, I'm Joel McCord.

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