Asimenia Polychronakis was determined to reopen Minas Shoe Repair in June, the 50th anniversary of the business her late father founded.
Before the pandemic, the devoted daughter, 37, was planning a fitting tribute to her dad, Minas, an immigrant from Greece, who became internationally known after September 11 when his shop was destroyed in the World Trade Center. His story was told in countless articles now plastered on the walls of the relocated business at 63 Wall Street.
She had hoped to celebrate with some hoopla and special promotions, like a shoe shine for 75 cents — the cost in 1970.
Instead, Polychronakis quietly opened the doors on June 15 despite the Financial District’s empty streets and office towers.
There are no shoe shiners on duty yet, because “no one is dressed up” and too few people are back in their offices, she said.
But seeing her old customers has been one of the brightest spots of her new day.
Bianca Alexis has been a patron for 10 years, having first befriended Minas, with whom she discussed cooking and politics.
“It’s awesome to see them open again,” Alexis said, adding that she brought in a pair of white shoes that needed to be repainted.
Then there’s the French doctor, a customer for 15 years, who came in with 14 pairs of shoes in the first days after the shop reopened.
“In all the years she has been coming in, I have never seen her bring in the same pair of shoes twice,” Polychronakis said.
Still, times are tough: Revenue is down, she estimates, by 90 percent from a year ago, and summer is already the slow season for shoe repair.
She has applied for a $40,000 PPP loan to bring back her five employees for full-time work and to help with bills.
The frenetic pace Polychronakis was used to — six-day work weeks, some nights spent working until 3 a.m. — has been rolled back to five days a week, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., for now.
The toughest decision she has had to make was closing a second shop, Omega Repair, located a block away, on June 30.
She said there is one upside to that: “I retired my mother, who is 65 [and managed Omega]. I want her to be able to chill out.”
Looking around Minas, Polychronakis wonders about the unclaimed shoes — more than 100 pairs — on her shelves and whether any of them belong to customers who have passed away from the virus or have lost their jobs “and are not thinking about their shoes and bags.”
During the three months the store was closed, just 10 customers called to pick up the shoes they’d left at the shop in March.
But there are encouraging signs. Some customers mailed in shoes for repairs during the lockdown, another brought in a small piece of leather furniture to be stitched up, and the locals who need her really need her. She mentioned a lawyer whose office reopened nearby, and he stopped in to get his shoes resoled.
“I’m still trying to be optimistic and patient,” Polychronakis said. “I can hear my father’s voice in my head telling me to keep faith.”