Mature Life Features

Cecil Scaglione, Editor

Confessions of a Newspaperboy Book IV

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School was never my best subject. My real education is rooted in my time peddling papers on the streets of North Bay. It branched in earnest about a decade later when I became a young reporter asking everyone and Boy_Smokinganyone question after question after question.

While I only sold papers for about three years, what I saw and heard shaped me into a pavement kid and honed survival instincts that served me well during my eight-plus decades. Among the memorable moments was a piece of advice given me by Nate Rivelis, owner of a Main Street ladies’-wear shop, one of the many Jewish merchants lining the  ‘Bay’s eight-block commercial core. He became one of my first regular customers along that commercial strip. He told me later it was because I was reliable. That is, I always used to enter his store about the same time of day every day and ask him if he wanted to buy a paper. None of the other paperboys had done that before. It taught me to ask for the business. It served me well in picking up several other downtown customers.

(An aside:  It also helped me as a reporter, too, because I would drop by regularly to talk with the police chief and city clerk and desk-duty sergeant and mayor on my rounds because, for whatever reason, most other reporters didn’t take the time for such a nicety. As a result, I established reliable upper-level contacts and sources.)

Anyhow, among the memories that pop into mind when I picture Mr. Rivelis is a question he tossed at me one afternoon. “How much money do you have in your pocket, Cecil?” I told him I had about 20 cents. He shook his said and said, “No, no, exactly how much money do you have in your pocket.” I said I didn’t know. And he said: “Cecil, if you don’t know how much money you have in your pocket, you’ll never be rich.” Well, I never became rich but, to this day, I always know how much cash I have in my pocket.

Shortly after retiring from selling papers on the street, I launched my Main Street shoeshine venture. I quit peddling papers because we moved to the east end of town, which put me several blocks farther from the Nugget that was at the west end of downtown and I would have wound up getting my papers after most of the prime selling section was saturated by a swarm of two to three dozen other paperboys. And home delivery was beginning to take hold.

There were a few shoeshine shops in dry cleaners and pool rooms and barber shops along the main drag but I could under-price them because my overhead was low: no employees, no rent to pay, no equipment to maintain. I carried three cans of shoe polish – black, brown and oxblood – two brushes and several soft rags in an empty wooden butter box that also served as a foot stand so I could burnish the brogues. My competition was a half-dozen or so other street shoeshine boys cluttering the entrances and exits of the handful of beer parlors sprinkled around the commercial core.

Pubs were divided back then: men on one side and another side for women. Men could only enter the women’s doors accompanied by a female. They opened at noon, closed at 5:30 (to make sure men went home for supper), reopened at 7 p.m. and closed at 1 a.m. weekdays and 11:30 p.m. Saturdays. All those blue laws crumbled in the late ‘50s. The best shoe-shining times were payday, Friday and Saturday afternoons and early evenings because we’d catch guys going into the pubs – especially if they were with a lady – and coming out to head for a night on the town. I kept a copy of the Nugget for the customers to read while standing there getting his – or her, because a few women did stop now and then — shoes buffed. I also had a half-dozen papers to sell to shoeshine customers. I always stopped to ask Mr. Rivelis if he wanted a paper and I’d pick up one for him.

On these stops early on, I noticed people would look into the windows of his store and nearby shoe stores and then glance at their shoes to see if they looked as nice as the ones in the window. A lot of the times, a guy would wait outside while his wife or girlfriend was shopping in Mr. Rivelis’ store. So I set up my sidewalk shoeshine shop in front of his shop.  Business boomed. While foot traffic was good at the beer parlors, many of the guys were usually in a hurry to get in for a couple of cool ones or rushing out to get somewhere and didn’t take time for a shine.

When my father saw that I was heading downtown regularly to make a few nickels, he made me a compact wooden shoe-shine box. It was about the size of a lunch pail. He fashioned a couple of blocks of wood to look like a footprint where the customer placed his (or her) foot while its shoe was being shined. Very professional. And he added a shoulder strap so I could carry it more easily.

One day, Mr. Rivelis, who used to get his shoes shined regularly, looked at me and said, “Cecil, if you’re going to keep on coming back here, why don’t you leave your shoe-shine box in the store.” And that’s how I got to maintain a downtown shoeshine venture for another couple of years that grew out of networking while I was selling papers on the street. On the way downtown, I would put together a couple of bunches of radishes or onions or beets from our garden and knock on a few doors to sell them before I got to my shoeshine stand. There were also mornings when I rode with the local milkman and his horse-drawn wagon or the bread man on his route to earn a buck or two before attending to my downtown business.

Other gigs garnered during my shoe-shining career included part-time phone-answerer and dispatcher for a cab stand, a parking-lot attendant (I just sat in the entry/exit booth to hand out tickets when cars arrived and collect money when they departed) and a behind-the-counter server at a downtown diner. The folks would come to my shoeshine stand to get me when they needed me. I kept the shoeshine business going for a couple of years until I reached my mid-teens and was old enough to get summertime work on the railroad. I broke away from hard labor after a couple of summers when I got a full-time job as day manager for a lunch counter followed by a lucrative summer as a hotel bellhop. These all stemmed from my stint as a newspaperboy.


Written by Cecil Scaglione

March 29, 2015 at 12:18 pm

One Response

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  1. Great story…

    Date: Sun, 29 Mar 2015 19:18:17 +0000 To:


    March 29, 2015 at 5:25 pm

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