MIDTOWN EAST — A family-run shoeshine and repair shop has kept business booming on its Midtown block for the past 81 years — and the secret to its success is keeping things old-fashioned and prices low, its owner said.
Walking into Jim’s Shoe Repair Shop, located at 50 E. 59th St., customers are taken back in time. From the furnishings to the equipment, everything dates to when the store first opened in 1932, said Joseph Rocco, the 83-year-old owner.
“Everything’s stayed pretty much the same since it opened,” Rocco said. “[People] like old-fashioned.”
In recognition of his longtime service to the community, Assemblymember Dan Quart, who represents Midtown East, presented Rocco with a proclamation Thursday morning.
“The longevity of this small business is a testament to the quality of its work and broad customer base,” the proclamation reads.
And the signs of Jim's longtime community service are evident from the moment patrons walk in the door.
The shop’s original cash register from the '30s still sits at the front of the shop, and all of its shoe repair equipment has been used for more than 60 years, Rocco explained.
Antique booths with individual doors line one side of the storefront, where customers can wait for their shoeshines in privacy, he said.
“Back then, girls wanted to sit and put their lips on and put their heels on,” Rocco said. “It just offers a little privacy.”
On the other side of the storefront, a row of shoeshine booths line the wall, along with a collection of vintage photographs.
But the real action takes place behind the counter, Rocco noted.
In the back, workers use dozens of whirring machines to stitch shoes and finish soles, he said.
The machines have been used at the shop since 1945, but they’re still working as new, explained Rocco, who repairs the equipment himself when they break down.
Downstairs, the whole floor is dedicated to stitching machines, and ladders sprinkled throughout the workspace on the ground floor lead to pockets of even more activity.
For instance, one leads to a small work area where a single employee tailors leather belts, shoes and purses by hand.
Rocco’s father, Vito, originally opened the store inside of the Delmonico Hotel — located on the same block near Park Avenue — in 1932, he said.
Ten years later, the business moved to its current location at 50 E. 59th St., but it still uses the same equipment and has been run by family members ever since, he said.
Currently, one of Joseph Rocco’s six children, a CPA who shares his father's name, handles the store’s financials, and Rocco's grandson works behind the counter, he said.
"I guess we just follow footsteps," said Rocco, who is originally from Astoria.
Even Rocco’s non-family employees have been loyal throughout the years — most having worked at the shop for the past 25 years, he said.
The secret to a long-lasting business is putting customers first and keeping prices low, said Rocco, who noted that most of his client base is made up of regulars.
“They asked," he said, "and we did."
Shoeshines are priced at $4 and the cost of repairs varies, but customers said even those prices are lower than most shops.
Harvey S., a 69-year-old Midtown resident who declined to reveal his last name, said he’s been getting his shoe shined at Jim’s every day, six days a week, for the past 45 years.
“This is New York the way it used to be. I know the whole family. I got his grandson a present this year," Harvey said of the store, as he sat in a booth to get his shoes shined.
“Most people in the city would gouge your eyes out, but when people lose their jobs or are going through hard times, [Rocco] will do [a service] for credit or give it to you half price. You can’t find people like this.”