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Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune

Ed Campbell, from left, the Rev. Raven, the Rev. Walter Harris and Thomas Nigel line up at Shoe Shine King in the 300 block of North Central Avenue on March 3, 2016, in the South Austin neighborhood the day after a 22 year old man was shot and killed in the vestibule.

Ed Campbell, from left, the Rev. Raven, the Rev. Walter Harris and Thomas Nigel line up at Shoe Shine King in the 300 block of North Central Avenue on March 3, 2016, in the South Austin neighborhood the day after a 22 year old man was shot and killed in the vestibule.

(Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune)

A line of pastors, mail carriers and men on their lunch breaks perched on the platform Thursday afternoon at Shoe Shine King. Employees worked the line, polishing leather boots and buffing Timberlands. A Donald Trump rally played on television, but few people looked up. The Rev. Raven chatted with owner James Cole at the register while getting a 10 year old pair of ostrich loafers repaired.

“Like a Rolls Royce,” said Raven, admiring the leather. “It’s all in how you treat ’em.”

Around the same time a day earlier in the 300 block of North Central Avenue, 22 year old Natyia Bowen was shot outside. Bowen ran into Shoe Shine King’s doorway, trying to escape his killer, and died on the floor while Cole, 71, sat at the front counter of the shop he opened in 1975.

“I did think about, maybe they’ll do me too.”

Cole wasn’t injured, but the shooting was the second homicide of the year on his block,
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a busy commercial strip next to the CTA Green Line and on a Safe Passage route. He never left the store Wednesday, letting the police and paramedics finish their work.

“I opened back up last night when (the police) left. They left at 5 and we opened at 10 minutes after 5. People were already standing outside waiting to come in. They wanted to know if I was all right, phone ringing off the hook.”

“Sometimes, you don’t have to ask for trouble,” said his son Vernon Cole, 40. “Sometimes trouble finds you.”

As he learned the business, the senior Cole had other storefronts around the West Side before moving to this one for better foot traffic four decades ago. His original neighbors were Rexall drugstore, Woolworth’s and Fannie May candy.

“Started shining shoes on the sidewalk,” he said. “Didn’t want to work for nobody.” A polish cost 35 cents when he opened; the rate for most pairs Thursday was “four and a quarter.”

“Can’t beat the price. I spent 10 years in the military and can’t shine as good as these,” said customer Ron Oliver. “I would bring guys’ boots back with me and charge them at Fort Campbell.”

The store stayed busy all afternoon. Cole built a loyal clientele working seven days a week for 50 years. He says he’s trained most of the younger guys who now ply the shoe shine trade downtown.

“This neighborhood is my whole life. I was raised coming down Madison Street,” Cole said. He was born on the Near West Side near Union Park before moving to Austin.

“If I happened to get a lot of money from the sky, say I win a lottery or something, I’d probably spend 60 percent of it here in the neighborhood. That’s what my life is about. God says you gotta be about something.”

A customer shouted across the store, telling Cole he hoped he’d never retire: “You close down, Chicago be crying.”

Yesterday, these blocks were homicide scenes. The day after a fatal shooting, police tape is gone and residents live, work and play. More Chicagoans are shot and killed than there are days in the year, but there’s a lot going on in our neighborhoods around the violence. Tribune photojournalist.

Yesterday, these blocks were homicide scenes. The day after a fatal shooting, police tape is gone and residents live, work and play. More Chicagoans are shot and killed than there are days in the year,
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but there’s a lot going on in our neighborhoods around the violence. Tribune photojournalist. (Brian Cassella)