MILWAUKEE — Ramon Jones has been shining shoes in Milwaukee since 1975.
"When we started, the regular shine was 50 cents, the super shine was 75 cents, and the master shine was a dollar," said Jones.
You may not recognize the name, Ramon Jones, but if you've flown into Mitchell International Airport, you may remember seeing a tall shoeshine in a captain's hat.
"My first shine, man, it was a very big experience. Once I learned it and I caught on, there was no stopping me," he said.
Jones, after shining for years around Milwaukee and the state, bought the shine business at the airport from the county in 2004.
"Well I was gonna be Dr. Shine, or Super Shine. But, I could wear a hat. When I come up, people wore hats. So, I said Captain Shine," said Jones.
He now runs three shining booths at the airport — in the main lobby and in concourses C and D.
He sees his work as art, like a painter. To work conditioner into leather, he uses his bare hands.
"My wife thinks I got the softest hands," said Jones.
But business is not what it used to be.
"Well, it went down, because the millennium was about dress down not dress up," said Jones.
Basically, he said, there's been a gradual decline in business attire among travelers. And then, the pandemic hit.
Jones shut down for five months. When he came back, travel was significantly down. Daily shines fell from 70 pre-pandemic, down to 10 most recently.
The captain had to pick up hours at an Amazon warehouse. For the first time in his career, he's behind on payments to rent space for his booths at the airport.
"We're working on that," said Jones. "I don't complain. We'll get through it. We're in America. We support each other."
He's had to adapt. He'll clean just about any footwear, from athletic shoes to sandals.
"The only thing I haven't done lately is toenails. Women ask me, can you do these? I say, we're working on that one," he said.
But Jones is adamant — he's not going anywhere.
"I'm not going to stop. Quitters never win and winners never quit. It's not work for me. It's sharing and caring, and that's what I do the best."