Cerritos couple restores dirty and old shoes with “car-wash” type of service By ELLYN PAK WESTSIDE WEEKLY
If John Bae had his way, he’d wash the sweaty shoes of Los Angeles Lakers basketball players.
Bae, a Cerritos resident, opened Mr. Shoewash in September 2002, hoping to find a niche for his shoe-washing and dyeing business.
He found it in Lakewood, where he cleans hundreds of shoes per week “car wash” style. Instead of throwing away a $100 pair of shoes, customers can drop them off at Bae’s business to be washed, dried and touched up.
“Who’s going to wash Cole Haans? Take it to Cole Haan? They’ll laugh. Mr. Shoewash will wash it,” said Bae, 49.
Bae and his wife Lucia owned a dry-cleaning business in Texas before moving to California more than three years ago. He wondered if there was a market for people who wanted to have their shoes washed just as they did for their clothes.
“Why is there no business that clean shoes?” he thought.
The idea could fail but Bae wanted to take the chance. He said the shoe-washing business thrives in Asia. More than 400 similar businesses exist in Seoul, South Korea. And since he’s opened his store, there are now other independently-owned Mr. Shoewash branches in the Southern California area that are thriving.
“We were shocked about the market,” he said about the surge of patrons who have come in to get their shoes washed.
On average, a patron can get their sneakers washed for $7 and have the scratches touched up with leather paint for an additional $3 or $4 dollars.
One man who lives in downtown Los Angeles brought in 10 pairs of Nike athletic shoes, Bae said. The shoes were in good condition, with no scratches or marks. The patron just wanted to sport clean shoes with his outfits, Bae said.
He also provides the service to dry-cleaning businesses in Buena Park, Newport Beach, Irvine, Costa Mesa and Anaheim, particularly for clients who live too far from his Lakewood business.
From stained Coach ballet slippers, scuffed Ugg boots, to mud-ridden golf shoes, Bae said he can make the shoes look brand-new.
The process is simple: the shoes are sorted and determined if they should be washed in a machine or hand-washed. The shoes are washed with detergent, and the pads are scrubbed with automated brushes. Then each shoe is placed on a deodorizing tree-like device where they are dried.
The shoes can also be touched-up with leather paint. Or bright dyes can be added onto sneakers, such as Airforce Ones.
Some of his patrons have brought in their expensive athletic shoes and added colors on them to match a holiday, like St. Patrick’s Day.
Bae said patrons did not think of washing their own shoes because the glue can fall off or the shoes can shrink.
But with his high-tech machines, Bae can clean even the most delicate materials, like suede.
Most of his clients are young men who want to sport clean sneakers with their outfits. Other patrons are a bit more practical, bringing in their expensive workboots after they are caked with stains.
“There’s pedicures and manicures. How about a shoe-icure?”he joked.