Look busy Father and Uncle would crow
toiling in the shadows
of 26th and Broadway
beneath the banner of Januzzi’s Shoes.
Together they paced the aisles
before Father returned
to the back office space
to pore over “the books.”
We would be dispatched to our stations –
Brother to the store room to unpack
the cartons delivered by the man in brown.
It would have been like Christmas,
if Brother had been me,
caressing each style
before pricing and stocking.
Sister would slowly wind her way
towards the counter
to stand stoic
beside the rigid cash register queen
who scolded her when wrinkled ones and fives
were turned opposite of tens and twenties.
Grandpa, founder and mender,
would retire to his repair stand
where the musk of newly-shaped leather
mingled with the scent of cobbler’s glue.
Customer names were recorded on cards
kept in a metal cabinet.
Filing the recently pulled or
pulling the filed always fell to me.
I would make it a game
see how fast I could order the stack
or search for the cards
of boys with whom I was madly in love,
later to be stung by their betrayal
of wearing of new loafers
Tension lingered in the air
on the days of sales
causing the aisles of shoes to quake –
the children’s section leaning into men’s boots,
rows of nursing whites
holding back women’s heels,
and ice skates teetering on the top
shelves above my head.
Retail was never easy
even before big box stores
swallowed up ideas and families.
But the business had been blessed
by the presence of the mill, the hospital,
and those who needed orthopedic shoes.
As if the store was a ministry itself –
serving and fitting –
and that purpose fed the family,
not the money collected
and carefully counted at day’s end.
Yet customers were never completely content
with the price, style or fit.
and squirmed in green vinyl chairs
squeezing bones into shoes too small,
waiting for us to admire their toes
in the slanted mirrors.
We could never lie to them,
we could never tell the truth.
We only knew that the odor of unwashed feet
would cause us
to seek out Grandpa’s shoe glue
or steal away to the store room,
relieved for a moment
from the duty and pride
of selling the shoes, the business, our selves.