A Really Big Shoe(shine)

Fort Lauderdale's once-booming black business district still has sole

It didn't seem as though the suit-and-tie and high-heel-and-hose crowd had acquired the habit of having their shoes hand shined. So P&G's decided to evangelize. Tyron set up a stand on the first floor of the then-First Union bank building at 200 E. Broward Blvd., right beside a bank of elevators that most of the employees used.

But even though plenty of people passed by Tyron's stand, only a handful climbed into the chair. At $4 a shine, it hardly made it worth his time. Tyron began asking people why they didn't step up and have a gleam put on their shoes. "No time," he says was the usual response.

That gave the P&G owners an idea. "There's a market for anything you want to do," Ross says. "It's just a matter of finding the need for it."

Ross Grooms oversees a 48-year-old business that started during segregation days
Colby Katz
Ross Grooms oversees a 48-year-old business that started during segregation days

In the next several years, Ross developed a mobile business while Tyron managed the shop. Ross has a regular gig on Mondays at the Hollywood law offices of Becker & Poliakoff. When business slows down at the stand the company set up for him, Ross strolls through the offices picking up shoes from people at their desks. On Tuesdays he sets up a stand in the breezeway between the parking garage and the offices at the SouthTrust bank building at 1 E. Broward Blvd. But he does the most shines when he wheels his mobile cart on Wednesdays through the 14-story 450 E. Las Olas Blvd. building where Huizenga Holdings has its corporate offices. It's perfect for the computer-tethered worker. "They turn around, kick their shoes off, and keep working," Ross says. He works in the building from 7:30 a.m. to around 2 p.m.

When Wayne is in town, Grooms picks up his shoes when he stops into the 14th floor penthouse offices. He declines to say what kind of footwear the Dolphins' owner and resident fattest cat wears. Like the others, Huizenga just hands him his shoes and does business in his stocking feet until Grooms finishes the job. There's not much talk with anyone -- even Huizenga -- beyond hello, he says. "He's making big transactions. He's got people in his office," Grooms says. "I'm just a pimple on an elephant."

As a crush of new buildings takes shape downtown -- 10,000 new residents are expected -- P&G is planning to seize the opportunity. People spending big bucks to live in condos such as Las Olas Grand and Las Olas River House will likely be the sort who spend money on footwear. "When you spend $400 to $500 on a pair of shoes, you don't hand them over to just anybody," Ross says. P&G hopes to position itself as the shoe groomer of choice by bringing its service into the buildings of those 24/7 downtown residents. "But don't print that," Ross says. "We don't want to give any ideas to our competition."

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