When Daniel “Shoeshine” Collier was 9 years old, his father decided it was time for his son to learn a trade. His father, a sharecropper and boat worker on the Mississippi River, came in from a week at work and declared, “We gon’ learn you how to shine shoes,” recalled Collier. “Shoeshine” is now 75, and temporarily in a wheelchair for a knee injury and health complications, but for more than 30 of the last 65 years, Collier has been a steady fixture of Santa Barbara’s downtown life while practicing his trade outside of Joe’s Café.
Born in Helena, Arkansas, Collier learned to shine shoes in the small riverside town’s barbershops and hotels. After the family’s sharecropping farm was sold, the Colliers moved around the country, finding work in Chicago, New York, and many other places. “As long as we had some bread on the table, we don’t care about money,” said Collier. “Long as we had enough to buy food and live week to week.”
Eventually, though, the family would settle in Santa Barbara, where Collier said one of his own two children still lives. He has eight grandchildren and an endless list of friends in the area — he rubs shoulders with several of the town’s pastors and professors.
Alongside family, Collier’s other passion is religion. “The most important thing I want to get to people is that family, family and God, is all you got.” His clients get a healthy dose of both — as Collier’s good-natured evangelism is as much a part of his personality as the “glittering shine” he leaves on shoes and the enthusiasm he has for life.
Though Collier’s road through life has been far from easy, his spirit seems undampened, even from a wheelchair at a convalescent home. He insists he’ll be back on his feet and back to shining shoes outside Joe’s soon — “You take the bitters with the sweets,” he said, and throughout his life, “whichever way it was, God was gonna bring us through it.”
In this case, his friends and family have stepped up; they are holding a community tribute to Collier this Sunday, December 9, in order to help him make the move from his home at the Faulding hotel into an assisted-living house. Through “bitters and sweets,” Santa Barbara has become Collier’s home, and will likely stay that way.
“I saw something here that I always liked here. I’ve been shining shoes for 65 years — anywhere shoe shining be, that’s where I’ll be,” Collier said. “I like to take a shoe and bring it to a glittering shine.”
The Community Tribute to Daniel Collier takes place Sunday, December 9, at 2:30 p.m., at the Alano Club, 235 East Cota Street. For more information, call 962-5013.