Standing at Durham’s Five Point’s one is struck with how new everything seems to be. Cranes piece together new buildings like a jigsaw puzzle. New businesses move in where old ones once stood, and passerbys ride by on bikes they hire from their smartphone. It’s easy to be overwhelmed while keeping your nose on your screen as you walk the busy intersection. Look closer and you’ll see that it’s not all the businesses moving in are “new”. Look around and you may be met with the quick charm and warm smile of Peirce McKoy of McKoy’s shoeshine. His office is on the street and everyone is welcome to sit with him for a spell.
Quick with a joke and full of stories
The first thing you learn about Pierce McKoy is that he knows everybody. Watch him for ten minutes and he’ll shake hands, wave, and hold a conversation with dozens of people. A Durham native, he’s been shining shoes since 1967. He invited me to sit in his chair like an old friend invites you into his home. Quick with a joke and full of stories, he began by telling me about the Chitlin Circuit which was the show route Motown bands used to travel when they played the South. Since his mother sold tickets at Durham’s famous Regal Theatre he got to see all the greats like The Tantalizing Temptations and Ike & Tina Turner. A singer himself, he’s opened for Patti Labelle at DPAC with his group Family Sircle.
It was easy to get caught up in the conversation while McKoy shined new life into my old high tops. We covered topics like politics, travel, the confederate flag, and gentrification. He told me stories of what Durham used to be like when Mutual Insurance sold policies for a nickel. I asked him about all the growth and change happening in Durham. On the one hand he said more people, more shoes, more business. On a more philosophical note he quoted his brother saying, “You never see a U-Haul being pulled by a hearse”. He quipped that people are often afraid of change until it comes, then they adjust, and realize it didn’t hurt a bit.
McKoy is at his booth on Main Street 7 days a week. He shines all kinds of shoes for all kinds of people.