Shoeshine stand sparks street-level debate on Fort Street in Victoria

Councillor working to adapt bylaws to allow vending on public land

Avi Lambert gets a shoe shine recently on Fort Street from Jill Goodson. Goodson shines shoes for a donation and so far has been denied a licence from the city.

Jill Goodson knew she risked getting a ticket, but she was ready for an argument.

Last week, she set up her red shoe-shine kit, her tiny black chair and a taller chair for customers in the 700 -block of Fort St. A paper sign taped to the chair’s legs read “Jill’s Jazzed-Up Shoes; shoe shine by donation.”

Shoe shiners used to line Broad Street 50 years ago, she said. “It kind of went out of fashion a bit, so I’m trying to revive what was very historical in Victoria, with a modern twist.”

The city, however, isn’t ready for such a revival.

On June 8, the bylaw department formally denied her request for a busker’s licence. Goodson, however, isn’t giving up.

The public supports me, she insisted from “her spot” at the mid-block crosswalk near Vancity last Thursday afternoon. Her protest quickly evolved into a spontaneous, public debate.

Shortly after 2 p.m., bylaw officers arrived on scene.

A soft-spoken officer named John Kitson assured Goodson that he wouldn’t write her a ticket – at least not this time.

Instead, he upped his previous verbal warning with a written warning.

“I have to politely ask you to pack up and leave,” he told her.

Goodson asked to stay. “It’s a form of protest,” she argued.

Kitson refused, but the exchange was respectful.

“John has got to know me almost on a personal level,” Goodson explained, after agreeing to pack up.

The small crowd that gathered, however, had something else to say. “I support you!” said a passing pedestrian.

A man driving by with the window rolled down said the same, giving a thumbs up.

A man in a suit confronted the officer: “Don’t you feel bad?” he demanded.

Only one naysayer raised his voice.

“Bum!” muttered an older man before shuffling off. But he’s likely not Goodson’s only opponent.

“We have received complaints,” confirmed Kitson. Standing back, a second officer photographed the hubbub.

After the officers’ departure, a few people lingered, offering advice.

The impassioned suited man urged Goodson to keep shining shoes, but change her sign to read “I’m a beggar: Sit down and give me some money.”

There’s no bylaw against begging, he pointed out. Less than five metres away, a silent man, cap in hand, watched the action closely.

Bystander Chris Gower-Rees, who has a background in public relations, advised Goodson to “reposition” herself.

Winning approval is all about perception, he explained. “You’re providing a personal service, (but) if they open it up to personal services, which personal services will be allowed and which will not? Will chair massage be allowed?”

Goodson, however, described what she does as busking.

“I have 10 years of post-secondary education and a sense of humour,” she said, clearly comfortable in the spotlight. “I am an entertainer.”

Later that evening, Goodson pleaded her case for a second time to city council.

A sufferer of Crohn’s disease who receives a disability pension, she said she likes to work but can’t find a part-time job.

“If you can’t find a job, you need to make a job,” she said.

Her story has won the support of Coun. Lisa Helps, council’s downtown liaison.

Shining shoes is categorically similar to food carts; both are examples of street vending, Helps said Friday.

Currently, street vending can only take place on private property, such as parking lots, with permission from the owner. It’s one possibility Goodson is considering for her own business.

Helps, however, is hoping to loosen the regulations so that people like Goodson can sell their goods or services on city property. Next month, she and Coun. Marianne Alto will bring a motion to this effect to council.

Such a change to city bylaws, however, will take time.

In the meantime, Helps said she hopes the city will categorize Goodson’s shoe-shine business as legal, non-conforming and turn a blind eye.

“This is where the activist part of me and the city councillor part of me are in total conflict,” Helps admitted.

“(Goodson is) obviously providing a valuable service, she’s obviously providing a livelihood for herself.”

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