'Pat's the most important guy downtown': Loyal customers rally to support Calgary shoeshine stand operator
CALGARY -- For the last 36 years, Pat Dardano has polished the footwear of office workers in downtown Calgary. His shoeshine stand at a Plus-15 entrance to Fifth Avenue Place used to be on the banks of a river of downtown workers moving between office towers.
“It used to be really busy down here from morning to the end of the day, pretty much,” said Dardano.
“Just at lunchtime, you couldn’t even move through here from the traffic of people.”
Today, that river of people has all but dried up, the move to working from home during the COVID pandemic, accompanied by an economic collapse which saw many Calgary offices reduce staff, has cut foot traffic in downtown Calgary to a trickle.
“Everybody's impacted downtown, of course, with this COVID,” said Dardano. “It’s been pretty quiet.”
In the few who do still come downtown to work, Dardano has also noticed a trend toward casual dress, which cuts into his business.
I don't think they have many meetings, and most meetings are virtual. So I don't think they have a reason to dress up and wear suits," said Dardano.
"You see the odd guy with a suit and ties but not too many. Rarely you see somebody with a suit and tie and some dress shoes."
Chris Malmberg, one of Dardano’s loyal customers, saw him sitting idly by his stand recently and wanted to help.
“And you know what, during this whole … when the shutdowns happened, as long as the Plus-15 were open, Pat was here," said Malmberg. “Sometimes, I’d just see him sit there every day, and there'd be no customers, or no shoes in front of him.”
Malmberg took to social media, calling on LinkedIn contacts to help Dardano, posting, “I thought I’d put a challenge out that would help him and also get you a few points with your spouse. This weekend get a few pairs of shoes of your spouse’s and drop them off to Pat next week and let’s get him busy again.”
Malmberg expected a couple of hundred people in his LinkedIn network would see the posting. It far exceeded his wildest dreams.
“I looked (Monday) morning and we're at 190,000 views. We're at 5,600 shares, we're at 4,500 reactions,” said Malmberg
“Every comment is 'Pat's the greatest guy downtown,' 'Pat's always smiling,' 'Pat's always happy.' Everyone loves Pat, everyone."
The online goodwill has translated into real world business for Dardano, who saw an almost immediate boost in business.
“It's been busy last week it was busy actually.” said Dardano.
“I had one gentleman call me Monday morning. I didn't even know him. He said can I drop off five pairs of shoes and he brought five, and said, ‘I saw so your LinkedIn page,' so he brought me five pairs of shoes to shine."
Dardano is so busy in the wake of the post he’s working almost non-stop to keep up
“I can only handle so many just because I'm just it's just me right?" said Dardano.
“I can only take so much. But actually, it's amazing.”
This isn’t the first time Dardano has been overwhelmed by support from his customers.
He suffers from an autoimmune disease, and in 2012 required a kidney transplant to survive.
Then out of the blue, one of his clients, Randy Haatvedt offered to donate his.
“It was time in my life when i thought I’d like to contribute more but I wasn’t sure what that would look like,” Haatvedt told CTV after the surgery.
“For a lot of people that might mean finding a charitable cause and writing a cheque, and there's nothing wrong with that ... But there are other things to do.”
Dardano says he doesn’t fully understand why he’s generated such loyalty from the people in Calgary’s office towers, saying he just tries to be a friendly ear to his customers.
“You relate to the customers in so many different ways that tell you story about the life and we talk about anything from Sports to weather and anything else, you know, pretty amazing," said Dardano.
“I think because they feel good when they leave, it makes me feel good, of course. It's pretty amazing. It's incredible. It's a great thing for everyone. For me, and for them actually.”
Despite being gobsmacked watching his Linkedin post numbers skyrocket, Malmberg isn’t surprised by the outpouring of personal support for Dardano.
"I mean, here's a guy that shined shoes downtown every day, and he's got more respect of the people of downtown Calgary than anybody in Calgary," said Malmberg.
“It just goes to show you, it's not the job that makes you important. It's how you treat people. And that's why Pat’s the most important guy downtown.”