Shoe-shining ain’t for fun in Pittsfield — even if you’re a kid.

Sure, there are a lot of fly-by-night brogan-buffers who take out their 15-cent license, work for a day or so and then quit because they haven’t made a pile. But others stick to it because the money is needed for something special.

Take 14-year-old George Demery, a student at Tucker. The fellows call him Smokey. He’s a shoe shiner because “I need the money to get clothes and shoes.” Smokey saves up until late summer and then splurges — for clothes to go to school.

Jimmy Williamson, 15, dreams about being an ice skating star. A student at the vocational school, every Saturday morning he shoulders his shoe-shine stand and patrols the streets. First goal for Jimbo is outdoor skates, and then a pair of indoor skates if it is a profitable season.

William (Uncle Willie) Salvatore, another Tucker student, is thinking of practical goals. The clothing problem for next fall is a reality to him now. But he admits, with a blush, that girls figure into the picture too.

The pint-sized entrepreneurs know what they’re about. They didn’t know right off what expenses were. But they figured it out as seriously as a local merchant checking his profit-and-loss record.

“You need about $5 or $6 to start with,” Smokey said. “No, it’s nearly $3 or $4,” he corrected himself. “All summer long you probably spend about $10 for polish and stuff. But you can make about $35 a summer, if you really work.” Jimbo nodded in agreement.

“Best day I ever had,” Smokey reminisced, “was a Saturday. I took in $9.95. But it’s not easy. I usually start at 8 in the morning and finish at 8 at night.”

Jimbo jumped and grinned that 8 was too early to start. “About that time I’m still in bed dreaming,” he laughed. “I usually start about 10:30. That’s plenty early enough for me.”

There are strict rules the youngsters must live up to, under supervision of James (Jazz) McNeice, attendance officer in the schools. He inherited the problem because the shine boys are minors. But he has the Pittsfield police force to help him keep the kids in hand.

“They can’t shine shoes if they are under 12 years old,” Mr. McNeice explained. “And if they are over 16, we have no jurisdiction. But when they get that old, they find other money-making jobs. Most of them are 14 or 15 years old.”

This Story in History is selected from the archives by Jeannie Maschino, The Berkshire Eagle.

Community News Editor / Librarian

Jeannie Maschino is community news editor and librarian for The Berkshire Eagle. She has worked for the newspaper in various capacities since 1982 and joined the newsroom in 1989.