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Shoeshine business shines light on what shoes can teach us

At Executive Shine at Denver International Airport, it's about so much more than shining shoes.
Posted at 1:42 PM, Feb 23, 2023

Looking clean and pristine was once the standard of travel.

"These folks are the best. No matter who I get, every time I have time when I'm in Denver, I always stop and get a shoeshine," said one pilot at the Denver airport.

It's what veteran pilots have always known.

"I know it doesn't look like it by looking at me, but I've been doing this for 27 and a half years," said another pilot.

However, standards have shifted and fewer travelers are gliding through the airport in tip-top shape. 

Jill Wright is CEO of Executive Shine.

"I love people," Wright said. "We have a saying that we say is: 'What does love look like here, for the person in front of you right now,' and that's how our whole business runs."

And that's why Executive Shine has stood the test of time.

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You don't need your fanciest pair of shoes to stop by. Your leather sneakers or favorite boots will certainly suffice.

"Those are the trends that have shifted. It's gone from really stiff to really soft, and I think that's kind of symbolic for what's happening with people," Wright said.

To Wright and her team, a shiny pair of shoes is simply the cherry on top. This business, in the center of the Denver airport, is about connection.

"I mean it literally gives me life to have you guys come back and see us again. Just knowing that I touched your day in a special way," said Tara Soto, an employee at Executive Shine.

People share their stories as they sit down.

"These boots I actually got while I was in Germany visiting my grandma," one woman explained.

We learned many airline staff won't go anywhere else in the country.

"The only place I've gotten my shoes shined is here," one pilot told us. "We all know when we buy our next set of shoes, gotta go through Denver."

Wright says it is rare people are given the opportunity to share, and the employees, sitting in front of them, really care.

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"People still need to be seen and be appreciated for who they are," Wright said.

"It goes deeper than the shine for me for sure," Soto explained.

Soto says shoes are a metaphor for how people judge themselves.

"When you look at your shoes, you come up and you're like, 'Oh, they don't look so good,' or 'There's a little bit of color off the tips of the toes' or 'They are not in the best shape,' you know, sometimes that's how we as people look at each other or even ourselves," Soto said. "Just dirty, without purpose, trying to find your worth, trying to find the beauty that you have inside."

It's a journey she's personally experienced, working here for nearly a decade.

"Going through the transformation of cleaning them and conditioning them is really a personal transformation that we go through in life too," Soto said.

We all know the saying 'to walk in someone's shoes,' and in this case it's connecting sole to soul.

"Always put yourself in the shoes of someone else," Wright said.