Still Seeking A Quality Experience, But Want Increased Comfort

Here is something of a metaphoric lesson for arts and cultural organizations about changing the nature of the experience you offer to align with the needs and expectations of your customers. Bloomberg CityLab recently had a piece about how the work from home trend and loosening office dress codes are impacting  shoe shine services. Basically, fewer people are going to the office and an increasing number of those who are heading in to work are wearing sneakers.

As a result, many shoe shine businesses are shifting to sneaker cleaning services. People may be going to work in sneakers, but they still want to look neat and put together. It appears that people may be less confident in their ability to clean their sneakers themselves than shining their shoes.

“The industry isn’t the same anymore” said Charlie Colletti, owner of Cobbler Express, a third-generation shoeshine and repair shop in Lower Manhattan. “We’ll do some sneaker work, we clean sneakers, you know, try to keep up with the times.”

Sneaker-cleaning services helped Anthony’s Shoe Repair, near Grand Central Terminal, survive the pandemic. Like shining dress shoes, it’s a specialized service. “Many people do not know how to clean them,” owner Teodoro Morocho said. “You need the right equipment and material to be able to do it well.”

At the end of the article, Charlie Colletti quoted above says in the 1990s he was super busy, had a contract with Merrill Lynch, and about 16 employees. Again this has parallels with arts organizations who remember having packed houses of subscribers. Except in this case, instead of those core audiences getting older and younger audiences not replacing them, the cobblers and shoe shine companies are facing a change in work environment and style choices.

Whether it is arts and culture or shoes, people are seeking a heightened experience, but want to be more comfortable doing it.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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