By Vernon M. Herron
When I lived in Joliet, IL, I went to Henry Shoe Shine Parlor to get my shoes shined weekly. Henry Hammond was his full name. He was somebody!! He knew who he was; why he was there; where he was going; and how to get there. I call that process identification, purpose, and destiny. Henry impressed me greatly with his self-worth concept; his business vision; and the recognition of his father’s teachings.I understand that Henry passed a few years ago. I wished that I had a picture of him and the volume of shoes awaiting his service. Since I don’t have such documents, let me tell you the story for your consumption.
The location of Henry’s Parlor was on Chicago Street, which runs from the business section into the Black community. Hence, Henry’s business catered to the business community as well as to local citizens.
I never saw a shoe shine cost amount posted in the Henry’s Parlor, so I generally left $1.50 for the shoe shine cost and a 50-cent tip, totaling $2.00. I thought that amount was generous but later understood that amount to be an insult to Henry’s integrity. He later told me the meaning of his service.
Henry announced that he no longer services the average shoe customer. “I leave those shoes to my helpers. Those customers pay less than $3.00 for service. I have a selected clientele. You see, I am more than a shoe shiner. I am a leather specialist who knows the art and treatment of shoe leather; one who knows the differences in shoe materials, which requires specific polishes, brushes and treatments. As a result, the shine is a professional treatment of leather which lasts and preserves the shoe longer. There is no fixed cost as my customers pay for my knowledge and professional service which generally is in the four figures. I have more work than I can do.”
The specialist shared with me a poem which has served as a guide throughout his developmental years:
If you cannot be a tree on the mountain top
Be a scrub in the valley
If you cannot be a moon, be a star
But whatever you do,
be the best wherever you are.
Even though Henry was limited in formal education, he excelled in every respect as a citizen who supported worthy causes, Civil Rights, and local churches.
Henry gave his father credit for his growth and development. “My father should have been paid the salary of a Ph.D. because he knew the subject matter, he taught it to me, and was one who watched my growth and development. I am indebted to him.”
This closing story fits Henry’s father well.
Father Hammond applied for a job as a janitor of a local school with the School Board. He was refused the job because the father could neither read nor write. So he bought a box of cigars at wholesale cost and sold them at a resale price, making and banking the profit. The process was repeated and continued until Mr. Hammond sought to open a cigar stand with a bank loan. When attempting to borrow $5,000 from the bank to start a cigar business, he was informed that the banking customer had more than enough in his saving account to open a cigar concession without borrowing.
Then the banker asked, “If you have this amount of money in the bank, not able to read nor write, what would you be doing if you had those skills?” Father Hammond answered, “I would be the elementary school janitor.”
Today, we salute the Late Henry Hammond, the leather specialist and his father.