Local film crew spotlights longtime Nashville shoe-shiner

Posted at 5:45 PM, Jul 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-09 22:04:07-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — He's shined the shoes of everyone from Congressman Jim Cooper to Pattie LaBelle. But this weekend, a legendary shoe-shiner in Nashville is finally getting his moment in the spotlight.

"Your feet tells your story about you, man. It really do," said Robert "Percy" Person.

Percy started shining shoes when he was just 9 years old, and has kept up the career for the last 70 years. He's had his one-room shoe service store in Nashville's The Arcade since the 1990s. Ever since, he's rubbed elbows and the shoes of the who's who of Nashville -- politicians, actors and sports legends.

"I treat them like they're part of the family, they treat me like I’m part of their family," he said.

But one of his most loyal customers is Phillip Jones. "I walked into his shop in March of 1991," said Jones.

Since then, Jones has been coming twice a week for some polish and perspective. "He’s got political advice, he’s got personal advice. He’s just a shaman," said Jones.

One day, Phillip realized, the man who's heard so many of Nashville's stories as he shines their shoes, needed to share his own story. "He was getting older and I, just at the insistence of my wife, she said you shouldn't let his story pass with his passing, you should tell it," said Jones.

So despite having no experience in making documentaries, Jones hired a crew and got to work, making a film about Percy's life. Along the way, they realized his story said a lot about Nashville too.

"His shop is 100 feet away from the Woolworth where they had the sit-ins in the 60s, he grew up on Jefferson St that was gentrified in the 70s," said Jones.

If you ask Percy, Nashville's growth has moved a little too fast, especially for a man whose slogan is -- Walk Slow. "Walk slow, because if you walk fast, you might miss something," Percy explained.

But then things got a little too slow in March 2020. The premiere for "Shine Service" was canceled because of COVID-19. And then his business pretty much came to a halt.

"People just, they’re not dressing, they’re not wearing shoes, they’re working at home, half the state workers aren’t even here," said Percy.

Slowly but surely, loyal customers are trickling back in and the 84-year-old plans to be here to greet them. "I’m going to be here. I ain’t going nowhere until I get tired. I ain’t going nowhere," said Percy.

Because with his documentary finally premiering this weekend, and a job that he loves, the soul of Percy continues to shine. "I just enjoy the work, I just like bringing them back to life," he said.

"Shine Service" will premiere July 11, 2021, at the Regal Opry Mills Theater. For more information on the film or to watch the trailer, click here.