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.
“ I think what I value the most about Hector is the authenticity of his love for serving others. What better way to demonstrate that than shining shoes?”— Lawrence Johnson
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.”
ONE OF A KIND
Eventually, he began looking for his next venture and came across the opening at V’s Barbershop. This is the first time he’d ever shined shoes in a barbershop.
“V’s was founded with the idea of capturing that old-school barbershop experience,” said owner Lawrence Johnson. “We reserve a special place for shoe-shiners when we can find them. Most V’s shops around the country have a shoe-shiner; some, because of location or the lack of availability, don’t. We (Hector and I) were fortunate enough to meet each other. With that, we feel like we have a very special location here in Windermere.”
As Johnson got to know Hidalgo and learned about his experience and personality, he knew he’d found a diamond in the rough. Hidalgo has a wealth of life experience, stories and relationships he has built with the Orlando community over the years, which Johnson believes adds to the sense of nostalgia V’s aims to create.
“Hector is one of a kind,” Johnson said. “You’re not going to find many people like him. He’s very caring, he is someone that takes his time to connect with people when they allow it. At the same time, he’s very respectful of others. I think what I value the most about Hector is the authenticity of his love for serving others. What better way to demonstrate that than shining shoes?
“A lot of times, he’s doing it complimentary as part of our service, trying to earn that trust and confidence so they’ll bring shoes to him on a regular basis and become customers for life,” Johnson said.
Hidalgo’s dream is to one day be able to open his own shoe-shining parlor — an extension of the lifelong passion he’s honed and holds so close to his heart.
“It’s a lost art,” Hidalgo said. “I like to deal with giving people the finishing touch. When they dress up, shoes are very important. When you go to an interview or you’re going to work in an office or something, you want to look sharp. They look you over from top to bottom, and it makes a lot of difference when you’re dressed and have shiny shoes. That’s the finishing touch of the way you’re dressed.”
“When you have a customer that comes into the shop and they see that we have a shoe-shiner their eyes just light up,” Johnson said. “It’s definitely been an amazing experience.”