THIRD STREET PROMENADE — He’s been a fixture here for more than a decade, but if Andy Waller doesn’t come up with $965 by Nov. 16, he and the shoe shine stand he operates will be gone, possibly for good.
Waller, a colorful character who likes to spin yarns about his days working as an extra on movie and television shoots, owes Santa Monica’s City Hall several months in back rent and is not confident he will be able to make the deadline for payment.
“I’m trying to go one more round,” Waller said Thursday as he stood by the stand located just north of Santa Monica Boulevard on the Third Street Promenade. “I’ve been here for almost 15 years and don’t want to let it go.”
But the reality is shoe shines aren’t as popular as they used to be and with the struggling economy, sales have dropped considerably, Waller said. More of his customers are looking to get their sneakers cleaned than their dress shoes polished.
Donna Rickman, a senior development analyst for City Hall who has been working with Waller, said he has been late paying his rent on several occasions over the last 10 years. City officials have been lenient, giving him extra time to settle his debts.
“We have given him every opportunity to pay,” Rickman said. “We wanted to give him a chance to market himself and build a reputation so people would come by. It never seemed to manifest.”
Waller, who learned how to shine shoes from “an old fellow” at 20th Century Fox, said he charges $7 per shoe shine and $5 for seniors. Waller’s rent is $107.68 a month. He said demand has been low because of the economy but interest in the stand is still high.
“People come by all the time, tourists taking pictures,” said Waller, who took over the operation from Ernie Whitehead, who in turn took over the stand in 1993 for Bob Jones, who shined shoes on the promenade for three decades. “It’s an attraction. It’s a beautiful stand.”
City officials said if Waller fails to pay his back rent another operator could be brought in to run the stand, which is owned by City Hall and maintained by the Bayside District Corp., a public-private management company that oversees Downtown. There’s also talk of moving the stand from the promenade to a location closer to office buildings.
Waller said it could be beneficial to move the stand closer to Santa Monica Place to draw more traffic.
“We’re hoping that he can meet the demand, but this is the end of the road for him [if he doesn’t pay],” Rickman said.
Waller said business picks up in the winter and hopes the trend continues. He is also seeking donations. Those interested in helping can e-mail him at email@example.com.
Andrew Thomas, director of operations for Bayside, said he would hate to see Waller go given that he has “been woven into the fabric of the promenade.”
“He’s a real member of the community,” Thomas said. “Everyone knows him. I feel like he looks out for a lot of folks out here and a lot of folks look out for him.”