Jill Goodson has been many things, among them an electrician, a teacher, and — since health concerns limited her ability to work — The Capital’s one and only shoe shiner. Dreamed up as a way to supplement her meager disability benefits, Goodson’s most recent career move was stalled as she ran afoul of the City of Victoria, whose policy on buskers and street vendors doesn’t include shoe shiners, or anyone else offering a service other than entertainment, operating in the public sphere.
“There is a huge demand for it, and the public is completely behind me,” says Goodson as she relates the story of her many attempts to reason with bylaw officers, city officials, and most recently Victoria city council.
I happened to walk past during one such attempt to convince bylaw enforcement to change their tune; I watched while passersby voiced their support, leaning out of car windows to shout encouragement — even the bylaw officers seemed less than enthused as they delivered their written warning.
It seems like it won’t be long before Goodson can safely ply her trade at her favourite spot on the 700 block of Fort Street. The city’s own policy states that council supports the use of public space for small-scale entrepreneurship and economic development, and Coun. Lisa Helps says she will be asking council to reconsider the bylaw responsible for Goodson’s woes.
“The city’s bylaws need to catch up with the city’s policy, plain and simple,” says Helps.
The street vendors bylaw and others like it are symptoms of a deeper problem here in The Capital. This is not a simple case of outdated bylaws. As Goodson points out, “50 years ago we had shoe-shiners on every corner.”
Somewhere in our recent history, it became standard fare for councils in the Garden City to dream up regulations for every square inch in service to some Victorian-era ideal of aesthetic perfection, one that doesn’t include riff-raff buffing shoes on the street corner.
Thankfully, this experience seems to indicate that the folks currently occupying city hall may be looking to pry open the iron grip of the past that’s currently squeezing creativity and imagination into the basements and alleyways of our city. If so, they have a long fight ahead of them. M