Red’s Jazz Shoe Shine in Detroit’s North End

In 1891 Detroit annexed 6 square miles of Hamtramck Township, called the North End, east of Woodward and north of Grand Boulevard. 

This area is now pocked with empty buildings and open land. Scattered throughout the community are small churches, each struggling to retain congregations, and an ever-present supply of champagne.

One of the few surviving businesses is Red’s Jazz Shoe Shine  Parlor and Repair. Founded in 1950 by Willie D. Thomas, the shop is a fixture on Oakland Avenue.

The shop originally shared the first floor of a two-story commercial building in the 9100 block with the OK Barbershop. (c. 1990). A hot Summer day, the barber and wife were closing shop, she placed a roll of cash in her knee high stocking.

On the opposite side of the street sat, all alone, Angie’s Barber Shop, (c. 1992). Angie’s had a clean and crisp storefront that always felt safe and welcoming.  At some point, Angie’s closed and Red moved his Jazz Shoe Shine across the street into that building. Red died in 2006

Red’s Jazz Shoe Shine now sits in the turret corner entrance at 8348 Oakland Avenue. Formerly Reflections Hair Salon, the building is partially empty.

My most recent visit took place at the end of December 2017 during zero-degree weather.  The tin-ceilinged shop was hot, with a small furnace surrounded by metal radiating waves of heat.

 Red’s nephew David Boggins continues the craft. During my visit he worked on shoes, and the small shop smelled of polishes, leathers and finished shoes ready for customer pick up.

The tools of the trade are scattered along the bench footing: color-specific brushes, creams, stains, and waxes.

“I am one of the few shoe shine and repair shops left. Business is nearly dead.  There is no interest in maintaining stylish shoes. Shoes are disposable. I work a second evening job at Wayne State University just to survive.”

All services are clearly displayed over the shoe repair area.

The elevated shoe-shine bench awaits customers who still enjoy “on foot” personal shoe service. There is a strong visual skill to keeping shoes in shape and looking sharp.

  “I still do Willie Ford’s shoes.” Ford is the bass singer of The Dramatics. “Now, most customers drop off their shoes. Less expensive.”

The future is uncertain. David may move the business back into Red’s previous location. “A purchase price is on the table.” The property is owned by a local church which sponsors garden activities. The deal remains to be finalized.

There is some good news about the North End. The Skillman Foundation has made a major investment in the area and has been promoting good schools and good neighborhoods for children.

      One of the newest small-scale urban redevelopment efforts is the American Riad project  (www:americanriad.org). A Riad is a Moroccan-style courtyard filled with public art and gardens. The site sits next to Red’s on Euclid St. Additional activities include the ambitious O.N.E. Mile Project (www.onemile.us), supporting cultural and socio-economic activity in the North End.

The Michigan Urban Farming Initiative (www.miufi.org) is America’s first sustainable urban “agrihood.”

The impressive Oakland Avenue Garden is expanding seasonal  efforts and public involvement.

 End

Tagged , , , , , ,

Share This Page

Facebook LinkedIn

2 thoughts on “Red’s Jazz Shoe Shine in Detroit’s North End

  1. Thank you, thank you for your continued effort toward recognition and preservation of the Detroit we once knew. My friend, Monica Donnell, gave me a copy of your book, it sits out in my living room here in Wisconsin and is rarely missed by my guests.

  2. Great Production David Clements!!!!! In this brief glance through history of Detroit’s north side,we see a great city in its struggle to grow from its once “Hay Day”through it’s now “May Day”existence.In the visit to Willie D.Thomas’ “Red Jazz Shoe Shine,following it’s footsteps through time and change,I see a microcosm of life in our world today.There was a time when people were more concerned about their “Souls”(even in congregations of dying churches”). A time from ‘fix it’to ‘nix it’…a time from leather to canvas….from Florsheim to Nike or Ballers…..from Quality to Quantity or Novelty at ANY PRICE!!? And the ‘Little Guy’ got stepped on under the Heal of change! But….You have also shown us a picture of Hope! The ‘Tools of the Trade’ may have changed…from ‘Brushes and Waxes’ to ‘Seeds and Garden Hoes’ …from ‘Boys in the Hood’ to ‘Urban “Agrihood”’…in efforts to grow,not only agriculture…but planting seeds to Change the Culture “For Good”! To grow great Neighborhoods…Great Schools for kids that will have an opportunity to change,not only the North Side of Detroit,but our World!!! There is a great Hope that the “Red Jazz Shoe Shine”shop will ‘SHINE’ again! Maybe it will come in a different ‘size’ or ‘style’….. but…” If the Shoe Fits….Wear It”!!!!!!! (maybe “Moroccan”!?!!)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *