Lost Arts: Shoe shiner is keeping the craft alive

Craig Berkenkamp isn't letting the centuries-old craft go extinct


People don't go to shoe shiners very much anymore but people in the industry, like Craig Berkenkamp, aren't giving up. It's a service that's been around for centuries, but now, it's dwindling.  The craft is the next part of the KSAT Lost Arts series.

Behind the sounds of brushing and popping is true technique, precision, and passion.

"Every pair of shoes is different and it's kind of like a puzzle, each one, and you put your heart and soul into it and come out with something beautiful," said shoe shiner Craig Berkenkamp, who shows off his craft in a small side room at the Olmos Barbershop.

To Berkenkamp, it's a dying art.

"These great shoe shiners that are 60, 70, 80-years-old they're not passing on their business to anyone. I'm honored that I get to be a part of that community," he said.

His first experience with shoe shining was with ROTC in high school.

"I remember getting my first pair of boots and totally destroying them with water and soap because I was half listening to my sergeant and he gave me a yelling at and taught me how to get that military shine," he said, laughing.

He eventually took some shoe-shining jobs where he perfected his craft.

"I knew that I had found what I loved to do," he said.

Now he spends every day cleaning, conditioning and polishing boots and shoes of all kinds.

"I like to use my hands to kind of rub it in." Until, as he says, the shoes are like a mirror.

It takes time to learn all the techniques Berkenkamp uses to keep his loyal customers coming back.

"I could shine them, they'd look good for one day. He could shine them, they look good for a month," said longtime customer David Blegen.

"He tells me about the materials on my boots, he tells me about the products he's using and I can see the craft in all that he does," said customer Michael Kennick.

"It's the passion I think. You can tell when someone really loves what they do and they creatively strive to make it better," said customer Doc Watkins.

"That's a Berkenkamp shine!" Craig said as he finished shining Watkins' shoes.

It's more than a shine, though. It's enough drive and love for a craft to truly keep it from fading away.



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