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Shoe shine stand in York an example of opportunity

DeCarlo Fleming shines the shoes of customer Mohommad Hafiz at Fleming's stand in York's Central Market. Photo/The Susquehanna Photographic

DeCarlo Fleming said his father made him learn to shine shoes as a boy and do it well.

It would help him put food on the table in hard times, Fleming recalled his father telling him when he was about 8 years old.

Fleming said he did hit a rough patch more recently in his life. He had moved to the midstate from Philadelphia and, once in York, he couldn’t find work.

So Fleming set up shop on the sidewalk on Continental Square. The first time out, he said, he expected to make enough money to maybe buy some bread.

The work instead earned enough to take home an entire dinner, Fleming said.

The older generation of York in particular embraced the service, sometimes tipping far more than what he charged for the shine, he said.

Since then, a diverse segment of the York County business community rallied around the burgeoning entrepreneur as he worked to establish himself in an indoor vendor space at York’s Central Market House Co.

He now keeps hours in the market.

Still, while shoe shining might be a skill that harks back to a simpler time, there’s still no getting around the other things a person has to do in order to maintain a business, Fleming said.

Fleming is receiving support today in order to develop inventory and sales systems, said Aeman Bashir, manager of new and small-business development with the York County Economic Alliance.

The alliance is part of the community’s Entrepreneurial Support Alliance, a network of groups in the community dedicated to helping businesses succeed, she said.

It seeks to coordinate efforts and make sure there aren’t duplication of services, and it provides a starting point to make sure an entrepreneur gets the specific type of support he or she needs, said Bashir, who is working with Fleming at the market.

Other areas of need include business planning and financial support, she said.

It’s not uncommon for someone with a specific skill, such as in automobile mechanics or woodworking, to go into business for himself or herself, Bashir said.

Just those specific trade skills aren’t enough to create a viable enterprise, and the alliance seeks to fill in any gaps that might exist, she said.

A key person who Fleming said embraced him was local businessman Donnie Swartz, uncle of York-based Sherman Property Management Inc. President William Swartz III.

Before he died in 2011, his uncle arranged to have an old shoe-shine chair from a closed York business refurbished for Fleming’s use, Swartz said.

Swartz said Fleming struck him immediately as a hard worker with a great attitude and someone who seemed to really understand what makes customers happy.

His uncle thought the same and was so pleased that someone in the community was marketing the service again, Swartz said.

The chair — more like a bench — at one time was longer and served for many years as host to the conversations of York’s business and civic leaders, he said.

“If you could have been a fly on the wall,” Swartz said.

Fleming’s business belongs at — and will be helped by — the resurging Central Market amid a wider shift in business and consumer trends toward the way things were years ago, Swartz said.

Some suburban malls are in the news for not doing very well, and many shoppers are moving away from throw-away products, he said. They instead seek quality items they can keep for a while, take care of and have repaired, Swartz said.

For Fleming’s business, there is the draw of nostalgia for the services he offers, Swartz said.

A big draw for the market and its increased number of vendors in the past several years is people indulging their memories of coming to the downtown years ago, said Casi Babinchak, its chief operations officer.

The market has a host of legacy vendors who have been there for years as well as newly established stands that sell, in part, a sense of heritage and history in addition to their foods or other products, she said.

“This is the service representation of that,” Babinchak said.

Along the way, Fleming also became a torchbearer of that same closed York shoe business that used to house the chair that is now in the market. The business traces its roots back many decades, according to its former proprietor.

Raymond Card said he bought the business, which he last operated as Rapid Shoe Repair, about 40 years ago. His profession is shoe repair, which he learned from working for his father.

Card said he worked in State College when his father had a store there. Later, he worked at another shop in Altoona before buying the long-standing business in York, Card said.

The men who shined shoes there worked for him, and he did repairs, Card said.

Card today has provided his shoe-repair services for Fleming’s enterprise after deciding to close down Rapid Shoe Repair for health reasons a few years ago, he said.

Fleming affectionately calls him “Pops.” Card keeps him on track, he said.

Brent Burkey

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