DENVER — When the coronavirus pandemic hit, it brought air travel to a near halt. Passenger numbers plummeted, airports turned into ghost towns, and a staple of many airports - the shoe shine stand - had to close up shop for months. That is, until recently.
“It’s been devastating for me,” Jill Wright, owner of Executive Shine at Denver International Airport, told Denver7.
Wright had been in business at DIA for 24 years, focusing on more than just shoes.
“We really owe the reason we’ve stayed in business is (sic) building relationships with customers. Listening to them, that’s the biggest thing that we do,” she said. “Our rule is - what does love look like for the person in front of us?”
COVID-19 closed her business, that she likened to a family, for two and-a-half months. She was heartbroken for her employees.
“I feel responsible for them,” she said through tears.
Employees like Jonathan Soto were out of work for nearly 75 days.
“I’ve been here since I was 14 years old,” he told Denver7. “I started here a freshman in high school.”
Soto has shined shoes for two decades, at times alongside his father. The coronavirus took more than a job from the younger Soto.
“I did lose my dad to COVID,” he said. “That was a tough time.”
Despite not being able to even have an in-person burial for his father, Soto says he still has the lessons that his father taught him from the shoe shine stand.
“I love taking care of people. That’s what I do and he taught me a lot of that,” he said.
And now, he is back to taking care of people, as Executive Shine is now back open and accepting customers.
“Yes the airport is empty but mentally you’re like ‘Wow, I still got my job’ and I still could talk to people and I’m happy,” Soto said.
With fewer flights, business isn’t what is usually is, but owner Jill Wright is still optimistic.
“It will come back because people are really longing to be connected again,” she said. “It just felt so great to see people we haven’t seen in months. We can’t hug them but we can elbow bump.”
And after going through the hardest times they’ve ever faced as a business, this small shine stand is looking forward to their rebound.
“There’s hope that you can come back. And the impact you have on people is really important and to never forget that.” Wright said.