This posting concludes the topic we began in 52b-Serrapede Family in America: The Great Depression-$120 a month (part 1a). In that posting we considered the nature of the work shoe shiners did and how much they may have earned. When the posting concluded we made note of how the young American boys who did this work faced competition from the waves of immigrants coming from Europe at the start of the 20th century. Many members of our immediate and extended family worked as boot blacks after arriving from Italy.
We now turn our attention to some of the ways bootblacks worked throughout Manhattan. Then Uncle Sammy and I share our family stories and discussion at the conclusion of this posting.
Sam Serrapede was born in Agropoli, Campania, Salerno Italy. He immigrated to the U.S. in the late 1920s. In 1930 he married Josie Muro. The newlyweds made their home in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn, N.Y. Sam worked as a shoe shiner during the 1930s through the late 1940s.
Sam was the Father of:
*Emily Leatrice Serrapede
*Gerald (“Gerry”, Gennaro) Serrapede
*Sabbatino (Sammy) Serrapede
Sam was the maternal Grandfather of: EmilyAnn Frances May
Bootblacks around New York City during the Great Depression
This shoe shiner waits for a customer on the corner of 14th Street and 8th Avenue in New York City. He’s set up his station outside of the New York Savings Bank. The sign above him contains a quote from Disraeli which says, “The secret of success in life is for a man to be ready for his opportunity when it comes.”
The shoe shiner outside the New York Savings bank got a customer. He is located in a good spot next to the entrance of a subway station. The set-up is very simple and would not cost much to keep up. However, the customer getting his shoes shined would not be very comfortable since the chair is very small. To have an edge over other shoe shiners in the area this man would have to have better supplies or a better technique.
This shoe shiner was working near Union Square, another busy area. Judging by the background he may have been near the park. Union Square is also in the vicinity of 14th Street and is close to a subway station making it an ideal place to attract customers. This shoe shine station is more elaborate. It might have attracted more customers than the one of the shoe shiner on 8th Avenue because the bench has a higher back and the awning provides some shade during a bright day.
A study of the photographs makes you realize that if these shoe shiners were working on their own their ability to earn a steady income was impacted by weather conditions. Another down side to working outdoors was the vulnerability to pickpockets and thieves. The shoe shine operation needed a steady location in order to cultivate relationships with clients. How the matter of where the shoe shiner worked outdoors was not described in any of our readings. It’s possible that the shoe shiner had to get permission to work outside of a business like New York Savings Bank. There were most likely licensing requirements and fees to be paid.
An independent shoe shiner would also have operating costs for the upkeep of his stand and supplies. The shoe shiners in these photos may have been working for a service that provided the station and the supplies. Even so, working outdoors had its drawbacks. Better locations would be indoors at such locations as Grand Central Station, the Staten Island Ferry Terminal or a local barber shop.