November 2008 Issue
Like many people, Carey Columbus Jones III works out of an office. However, his place of business has an unusual location: the men’s restroom in the basement of The Westin Great Southern hotel in Columbus. There, he performs “shoe artistry.”
Not to be mistaken for a mere shoeshine, what Jones does is more like a restoration. “That shoe is like a canvas,” he earnestly explains. “I strip that shoe of everything that’s on it — the color, all the way down to its bare leather. Then I bring that shoe, one step at a time, [to] the end, which is like a beautiful work of art.”
He’s not exaggerating, either. The finished product has a glossy sheen that often leaves the footwear looking better than new. Damaged leather is repaired and new color can be applied.
The strange place where he sets up shop works for him. “If they’re here in the hotel and Mother Nature calls, that’s how I get the majority of my customers,” he says with a laugh.
Those customers, in turn, tell other guests in the hotel about Jones’ service. Many travelers remain loyal after departing the Westin, shipping him shoes (primarily top-quality footwear like Allen Edmonds), handbags and luggage from as far away as California.
But don’t think you can just ring up Jones and ask how he does it. The procedure, which he painstakingly developed over the past 17 years, is a tightly guarded secret. (Jones even has the term “shoe artistry” registered with the Library of Congress and certified with the state of Ohio.)
“It’s just like Colonel Sanders,” he says. “We don’t know what the secret he used for his chicken is, and I can’t tell you the secret I use for artistry.”