‘Charlotte Shoe Man’ pays it forward with refurbished footwear
by Luanne Williams

"While still imperfect, a little time, care, and love can be transformative for shoes and people. It's my way to love others as Christ has loved me. No pressure or guarantees, just sweat equity and the manly smell of polish to lift souls and soles." -- Adam Brooks

When Adam Brooks bought a pair of 1969 Florsheim dress shoes from the Moon Zooom thrift shop in Santa Cruz, California, a decade or so ago, he knew he was stepping into something special. What he didn’t realize is that it was the first step toward a ministry that would bless local men with $10,000 worth of quality shoes (and counting).

“I took them home, cleaned them up, wore them, wore them and wore them, replaced the soles, replaced the heels,” Brooks says. “From that point forward I said, ‘I am never buying another pair of junk shoes again.’”

A 2007 Wingate University graduate with a degree in liberal studies, Brooks holds a master of science from East Carolina and is a manager of learning technology and tools for Charter Communications. He also often holds a shoe brush, polish and other tools of his hobby: refurbishing high-quality vintage shoes and giving them to others.

Brooks says he grew tired of shelling out $7 every time he wanted his shoes spiffed up for a meeting. So he hit the DIY corner of the internet and learned a little about restoring footwear.

Brooks honed his cleaning and polishing skills and then moved on to edging, repairing heels and adding half-soles.

“I am not a cobbler, but there are things I can do,” he says. “It is amazing what you can learn with YouTube videos. … At a minimum, I can take a nice pair of shoes that need a little love, make them awesome and get them into the hands of someone who can use them.”

Once he honed his technique, Brooks started giving the shoes away. A member of Next Level Church in Stallings who has been dubbed the Charlotte Shoe Man, Brooks says his ministry grew organically from his own need-turned-hobby.

“I had started a new job and went and spent a good bit of money on shirts and jackets and shoes,” he explains over a coffee-shop table on which rest two gorgeous pairs of shoes ready to be handed over to the next lucky recipient. “Quite honestly, I spent a lot of money on shoes that were inferior quality, and you realize pretty quickly that if you want something nice that you buy once and you have for life, you have to know what you’re looking for.

“I would go into a thrift shop and see a pair like this. These are very nice Allen Edmonds shoes, easily over $400. I’d find very nice dress shoes, in good shape or needing a little repair. And I’d say, ‘You know what? These aren’t my size, but I know someone who could use them.’”

So Brooks, who typically pays between $3 and $20 per pair of used, vintage shoes, started introducing friends and colleagues to the joy of quality footwear. To expand his outreach, he posts pictures of his inventory on Facebook, where he makes it clear that “the recipient can have a shoe need or a want. It’s okay to enjoy something nice.”

Wingtips and a pastry

Hank Cowell of Stallings, one of Brooks’ most recent “customers,” was excited to receive a pair of Johnston & Murphy wingtips after reading about Brooks on Nextdoor, a neighborhood-based social media site.

“His ministry and the quality of shoes here are consistent with how I grew up,” Cowell says. “We didn’t have a lot, but what we did have was good quality. I had two pairs of shoes – one for school and play and the other for church. I remember growing up how my Dad and I would sit on the sofa with the newspaper in our lap every Saturday night shining our shoes for Sunday.”

Cowell says that he’s been out of commission lately, awaiting hip surgery, and that he needed shoes in a narrow size for church.

“This is a quality pair of shoes,” he adds. “It fits how I grew up, and it fits my appreciation for keeping lesser-quality shoes out of our environment.”

Giving the shoes away to Cowell while sharing a pastry with him at Brakeman’s Coffee in Matthews, Brooks clearly enjoys his role as the Charlotte Shoe Man, but he has no expectation of becoming Samaritan’s Feet.

“Those guys have a huge, international operation, and they do great work,” he says.

Rather than expanding his inventory — roughly 20 pairs of shoes in progress is about all he has room for— his goal is to inspire others to use their own talents to bless their neighbors. He would especially love to see his ministry become a model for likeminded shoe connoisseurs in other parts of the country.

“I get requests consistently from out of my market, and I don’t ship,” Brooks explains. “I’d like to be able to say, ‘Let me connect you with John Doe in Phoenix to get you hooked up with a pair of shoes.’”

Quality over quantity

Brooks accepts no money from the recipients of his labors. “Pay it forward, in your own way, in your own time,” is all he asks.

“It may be that someone down the street is having a hard week. Make them a dinner. That’s paying it forward,” Brooks says. “It could be that I’m a young man and I know my elderly neighbor needs his yard mowed. Don’t wait. Just go do it.”

This is consistent with Wingate’s “faith, knowledge, service” motto.

“We talk about faith,” Brooks says. “We talk about service. We have two great commandments: that’s to love our God with all our heart and abilities and to love our neighbor as ourselves. That’s first and foremost.

“Second of all, let’s have a lifestyle of quality instead of quantity. That means a scenario where we not only offer service, but when you give people a blessing and you give them grace, you give them more than they expect. And I think Wingate fosters that culture.”

A community-college graduate with an associate degree, Brooks had already started his career when he enrolled in Wingate’s liberal studies program (then in Matthews, now in Ballantyne). He advises current students to enjoy and build on relationships formed along the way, “through your school and through your efforts to serve your community.”

“It will open up bridges to serve others and develop yourself,” Brooks says. “Just focus on your service, focus on those commandments and focus on that quality.”

And to men, he adds, do it all in a “dapper pair of kicks.”

Adam Brooks can be reached via the web, where you will also find his social media links.

Aug. 16, 2018

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