Shoe repair stores used to be a good way to make a living. Then, the pandemic sent corporate workers home. – NBC News

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He had regulars for decades and tourists always boosted his business. These days, hardly any clients trickle in. On a recent morning, the customers who did come asked how he was doing and wished him well.

Chris Burnett, who works in finance, made a trip to Rockefeller Center just to go to Eddie’s. Burnett, 35, used to come to the store often.

“I would bring my boss in here when he was in town,” he said, adding that to see the place so empty was shocking. “There would be eight guys lined up, and we couldn’t even get a spot sometimes.”

He had come to Eddie’s because his puppy chewed up his girlfriend’s black high heels, hoping if anyone could fix the pair, it would be Eddie’s. Admittedly, Burnett said, he hasn’t worn dress shoes in nine months.

Ardaix, wearing a mask, bumped elbows with the few people walking through Rockefeller Center who used to frequent his shop. They told him to hang in there. But the question of how long he can hold on lingers.

As the end of the year nears, small businesses like Eddie’s Shoe Repair are in desperate need of some type of relief. The store owners said they need rent cancellation, cash assistance and more payroll protection if they are to stay open. The new stimulus bill that passed through Congress might just be their last hope.

Before the coronavirus, perhaps the biggest disruption to the shoeshine business in the past decade was when more corporate office workers started wearing sneakers. But the spread of casual startup-style office attire didn’t stop shining and repairing shoes from being a good way to make a living in midtown, Ardaix said.

Now, that’s nearly impossible, and hopeful vaccine news for 2021 doesn’t quell much anxiety as it remains unclear when and if officer workers will come back to midtown.

Near the Grand Central Station, Teodor Morcho hopes the workers will return soon. His shoe repair and shine store, Anthony’s, is making about 5 percent of what it used to. He closed his store’s second location in Manhattan after the landlord demanded the full rent. The only reason his midtown store remains open is because his landlord there told him he could pay 30 percent of the rent until the summer.

Teodor Morcho, 55, has already shut down one of the two locations of Anthony’s Shoe Repair. He hopes his Midtown location can stay alive, but the rent is impossible to make as business in the pandemic is about 5 percent of what it used to be.Ben Kesslen / NBC News

“Still, it’s too much,” Morcho, 55, said. Now, he spends money on food, rent for his apartment and store, and nothing else.

When he tried to raise prices so he could make rent, customers got mad. Days are numbered at his store of 18 years unless something changes, he said.

Back at Eddie’s, Ardaix leafed through all the coverage his store has received in Italian GQ, BBC and The New York Times. He pointed to the pictures on the wall of celebrities who have been customers at one time or another.

“We really are an institution,” he said. “GQ said they were honored to write about me, and I’m in the basement!”

“But now is not the time to talk about achievements,” Ardaix said, “because we suffer.”

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