The unofficial mayor of the airport shines shoes over on Concourse C, cracking jokes as he buffs and polishes at the two-seat stand in front of a wall of local sports banners. Portland native Lowell Jackson has been shining shoes for an international clientele next to Gate C4 since Vancouver-based chain the Barbers (which also offers haircuts and hot-lather shaves at a pre-security PDX shop) became the stand’s operator in 2014.
It wasn’t very busy when he took it over, but the stand (open 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays) now serves 20 to 40 people a day, mostly suited business types traveling for work who want to look spiffy for a meeting, plus the occasional Harlem Globetrotter. (Rapper T.I. has gotten a shine here, too.) As business increased, he asked his daughter, Helene Jackson, then freshly out of Portland State University, to join him. After much begging, she finally agreed. “People are crazy about her,” Lowell reports of their many repeat customers, “always asking, ‘Where is that wonderful daughter of yours that shines shoes so well?’”
Those fans might be disappointed Helene isn’t around quite as much as she used to be: she’s working on an MBA at Willamette University two days a week, while living a few blocks from her dad in Northeast Portland. “It’s through the interactions with customers that I’ve really been pushed to go for my goals,” she says. “They’ve held me accountable to my dreams.” Those dreams include expanding the business, perhaps starting with a second shoeshine stand in another terminal. That could mean hiring outside the family, but Lowell will still be the heart of it all.
“He knows everybody. Everyone walks past him and says, ‘Good morning, Lowell!’” says Helene. “My dad’s a character.”