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Best Shoeshine San Francisco 2001 - John Salahudin (2nd and Market St.)

In this age of layoffs and stock slumps, a shoeshine might seem like a luxury. After all, with a can of Kiwi and an old rag you could do the job yourself. But those pounding the pavement might do well to stop at one of these booths and have a professional polish. Unlike an amateur, legitimate shoeshiners won't get black polish on your socks. But more important, for the price of a burrito you can hear the story of a lifetime and walk away with shoes that look as good as new. Go ahead: Put your best foot forward.

John Salahudin

Second and Market streets

Wearing a dapper felt hat and dingy brown loafers, John Salahudin does tai chi behind his booth opposite the Men's Wearhouse at 601 Market. As you approach, he's got a smile and a suggestion. "Could use a little work there, yeah," he says in his gravelly voice, nodding to your smudged oxfords and motioning you up into a seat. If you'll listen, he'll tell you stories. One example: Twenty years ago he was a longshoreman on the waterfront, but he didn't like the swearing. "I wasn't raised like that," he insists. You can drop your shoes off to pick up later, but it's worth it to stay around: For $5 and about 10 minutes of your time, Salahudin provides one of the friendliest shines in the city.

Bob's Shoe Shine

Montgomery Street BART/Muni station

Waiting in line to buy a Fast Pass at the ticket booth, you might hear humming. Most likely it's Duane ("But everybody calls me Bob") over at Bob's Shoe Shine, keeping himself entertained. As folks sprint out the Post Plaza exit, Duane works patiently on a pair of dark ankle boots. Deciphering the pricing sign might be difficult: "Regular shoes" run $5, but boots are more complicated. "Shoe boots" -- those that come to your ankle -- are $6. "Regular boots" -- up to midcalf -- run $7. And "long boots" -- knee-high -- will set you back $10. Duane's never had anyone come in with thigh-highs, but there's no doubt he could handle that. Come when the booth opens at 7 a.m. to beat the rush.

Nordstrom's Men's Shoe Department

San Francisco Centre, 865 Market (at Fifth Street), 243-8500

Going to a mall for a shoeshine might seem like a sellout, but the guys next to Men's Shoes at Nordstrom work just as hard as any solo practitioner. Manny Pacamarra has worked this bench for 12 years, sharing his four-hour shift with Rick Bautista, a five-year veteran, or one of four other workers. Because the shiners at Nordie's get paid an hourly wage, they can charge just $1.25 per pair -- the cheapest in the city. But they still live by tips, which you give "out of the goodness of your heart," as Bautista explains. Nordstrom's booth is the poshest, too: It's got magazine racks and two wall phones. One added benefit: The stand is open until 8 p.m.

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