Friends remember High Point's beloved 'Shoeshine Man'

May. 22, 2014 @ 05:25 PM

Dennis Steed, High Point’s self-proclaimed “Shoeshine Man” for decades, never met a scuff he couldn’t buff.
“Oh, man, he was something else with a pair of shoes,” says Steve Petroff, the former owner of the old College Village Barber Shop, where Steed and his shoeshine stand were well-loved fixtures. “He could take an old pair of shoes and make them look like new — he was that good. He had some customers who came just for his shoeshines without even getting a haircut.”
Steed, who lived in Trinity, died Tuesday. He was 83.
“Dennis was just another one of the guys at the shop,” Petroff recalls. “There was no color barrier there, and he got along with everybody the same way — shining their shoes, talking sports. He was just a super guy.”
Generations of High Pointers will remember Steed as the humble, good-natured shoeshine man — not only at College Village, but also twice a year during the High Point Market — who loved to talk North Carolina Tar Heels basketball with anybody who would listen. He was recognizable by the denim apron he wore to protect his clothes, and by the smudges of black shoe polish staining his hands — a reflection of Steed’s old-school style of shining shoes.
“He didn’t use a rag or a sponge or a brush to apply the polish — he applied it with his fingers,” Petroff explains.
Steed, who learned the art of shoe-shining from his father, told the Enterprise about his unique style for a 2005 feature story.
“Now, I can have my hands clean in five minutes,” he said. “But kids today, they don’t want to get their hands dirty. They just want to shine shoes their own way and make a few dollars.”
Steed’s father taught him the business while working at the old High Point Hat Shop.
“The first thing my dad taught me is, in shining a pair of shoes, you have to get ’em clean first,” Steed told the Enterprise. “Shining a pair of shoes is just like washing your car — if you put a wax on your car and don’t put any cleaner on it and get it clean, it won’t shine.”
Petroff tells a story that perfectly illustrates Steed’s point. A number of years ago, he was at a weekend Army Reserve meeting, standing in formation with several other breakfast cooks, when the captain stopped in front of him and looked him up and down.
“Petroff,” he barked, “don’t you do a thing around here?”
“Yes, sir,” Petroff replied.
“So why do your boots look better than mine,” the captain asked, “and the rest of the cooks don’t look like they even know what a can of shoe polish is?”
The answer, of course, was because Steed — a former Marine himself — had shined Petroff’s shoes to a spit-shine perfection.
High Point University President Nido Qubein, who trusted his shoes to Steed’s care for many years, says Steed was much more than a mere shoeshine man.
“To many he may have been the hardworking shoeshine maestro,” Qubein says, “but to me he was a proud American, a faithful Christian and a loyal friend.”
Steed took great pride in his profession, according to friends. After learning the business from his father in the mid-1940s, he shined shoes at the old High Point Barber Shop until he joined the Marines in 1951. After his discharge in 1953, he shined shoes at the old Elwood Barber Shop, working there until College Village opened in 1959.
After a dozen years at College Village, Steed took a job at Ralph’s Frame Works, but after retiring in 1991, he went back to College Village for another couple of decades, finally hanging up his rags — albeit reluctantly — when his health began to deteriorate about three years ago.
“He loved that barbershop, and he loved shining shoes,” says Steed’s daughter, Denise Steed. “That was my Daddy.”
jtomlin@hpe.com | 888-3579