Q&A: Bill Tuggle, shoe shine stand operator, Plaza Tower on Gay Street

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You’re celebrating your first anniversary here, but how long have you been shining shoes?

I’ve shined shoes pretty much all my adult life, from my military days. But I’ve done this just a year; I retired from the apparel business, used to have a route in Tennessee, Mississippi, Kentucky, Alabama, and Georgia for about 35 years, then a store in Hendersonville, Tenn., for about three years, and then I came back to Knoxville, where I’m originally from.

Are your kids able to shine shoes to your satisfaction?

I don’t know whether they do or not; they don’t come around for a shoe shine, and most of my kids wear casual clothing.

Do any women come for shoe shines?

Quite a few. They bring in dress shoes and boots. Or sandals, they bring them in for repair. I do a pick-up and delivery through Pendergrass Shoe Repair. I have a good cross-section of customers—attorneys, bankers, judges, people from the U.S. Marshall’s Office, the FBI.

Do the FBI still wear those black shoes?

You don’t see too many with the patent leather look—sometimes those in the restaurant business, or security guards.

Shine any unusual shoes?

Nothing particularly offbeat. The two-tone golf shoes are the hardest, very tedious, takes about one-and-a-half hours. I went up on the price for them, because I don’t like to do those.

Are you the only stand in Knoxville?

I may be, I’m not positive. Pendergrass does some, but not at a stand. There’s a stand at the metro airport, but of course that’s in Alcoa.

Why shoe shining?

I was looking for something no one else was doing—and now I understand why! If I had to make my living at this, it would be too tough, but I’m retired and this keeps me out of the house. It also supplements my income, a little.

What branch of the military were you in?

The Army. I used to shine all the guys’ boots and iron their shirts and put a military crease in them. I made enough so that when I came out in ’57 I could buy a brand new ’57 Chevy, a Bel Air. I wish I still had it.

How does your anniversary promo, the drawing to win gift certificates or 25 shines, work?

I’m running it until the end of May; people can come by and drop in a business card or I have a card they can fill out.

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