A shoeshine at Unks is like acquiring a piece of art

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 17, 2003

NATCHEZ &045;&045; Two years ago a stroke threatened to end the career of shoe shiner Edward &uot;Unk&uot; Montgomery.

Fortunately for Montgomery, his doctor’s advice was to resume doing what he loved.

Montgomery needed no convincing, and today he is still shining the shoes of customers he has had since he started in 1951.

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Montgomery may have had other jobs in his 72 years, but he said shoe shining is the only one from which he will never retire.

Unk’s Shoe Shine Parlor, located on the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. and St. Catherine streets, is, in a way, an artist’s studio.

Scattered around the studio are his tools &045;&045; jars of shoe polish, various brushes, towels, and a hair dryer.

The canvases, in this case, are the shoes that walk in and out of his business.

The canvas’ may not hang in a gallery and may get dull and dirty again, but Montgomery’s art may never be forgotten by the customers he has served throughout his life.

Montgomery’s parlor is primarily patronized by members of his own generation &045;&045; a generation that made deals with handshakes and looked you in the eye while doing so.

Unlike today, Montgomery’s generation believed that all people were accountable for the upkeep of their outward appearance. For men of that time, this was not just a responsibility, but also a matter of pride.

When asked what a shined shoe says about a person, Montgomery simply replied, &uot;Well, they complete.&uot;

&uot;In the ’60s, everyone got their shoes shined; to get ready for church, if for nothing else,&uot; Montgomery said. In fact, church was the catalyst for a visit by Levi Marsaw III on Monday.

During Sunday church, Marsaw saw the dull appearance of his shoes and went to Unk’s Shoe Shine Parlor on Monday to do something about it.

Marsaw, Montgomery’s customer for close to a decade, said &uot;There’s no other place to get a good shoe shine in Natchez… that I know of.&uot;

Upon completion of Marsaw’s shoe shining Monday, Unk showed his customer the final product.

Marsaw looked down and said the &uot;shoes look as good as they did the day they came out of the box.&uot;