V’s Barbershop shoe-shiner Hector Hidalgo has been shining shoes for more than 50 years.
On most weekdays you can find Hector Hidalgo wrapped up in conversation with a customer at V’s Barbershop in Lakeside Village.
As he talks with his clients, he works meticulously on restoring their shoes to their original shine.
Dusting, polishing, cleaning, buffing — he works through the process, taking his time to connect with the shoes’ owner all the while.
Hidalgo, an Apopka resident, was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. He first picked up shoe-shining casually at age 12. It was something he was curious about, having watched other kids set up shoe-shining stops in subway stations, but it wasn’t something he began doing professionally until he was 14.
He worked as a shoe salesman for Thom McAn in Brooklyn in the 1970s and made his way up to assistant manager. Learning the art of shoe-shining came from watching the shop’s master shoe-shiner.
“He said he wanted me to be a master shoe-shiner and follow in his steps,” Hidalgo said. “I saw how he shined and everything, step by step. I was next to him most of the time to start. Then I did a little, step by step, and a couple hours after watching him, he saw what I could do. I learned pretty quick.”
It was an old-fashioned art with which Hidalgo, now 65, quickly fell in love. He spent the next seven to eight years in Brooklyn selling and shining shoes before moving to Puerto Rico to be closer to his family.
While in Puerto Rico he put shoe-shining to the wayside as he focused on his career in sales. He always had a knack for selling shoes and clothes.
In the mid-1980s, Hidalgo made the move again, but this time to the Orlando area, where he’s been ever since. He dived right back into shining shoes at places such as Fashion Square Mall, the Sheraton Orlando and The Westin Lake Mary. Clients included judges, business professionals and even Orlando Magic staff. He shined shoes in clients’ homes and in car dealerships, and also trained a few young shoe-shiners himself.
“At the Sheraton … I had a nice room they turned into a place to shine shoes,” he said. “The manager got me a $4,500 chair, a good wooden, old-fashioned two-seater. It was fancy and an old-fashioned shoe-shine stand. It was away from the crowd. People liked it, because they would read the paper and I had the music on and we talked. They liked it a lot and felt like they were at home. I built a customer base there.”