Shoe-bronzing may have fallen out of popularity, but on one Monday afternoon, some customers are still lined up at the American Bronzing Company.
Columbus resident Peggy McCray comes in with her husband to pick up a freshly-restored candelabrum that once belonged to her mother. McCray intends to pass down the silver to her grandchildren as a keepsake.
An employee emerges from around a corner, holding objects wrapped in white craft paper. She uses scissors to unwrap the candle stick holder and gestures to McCray.
“Oh gosh, yeah. That’s shinier!” McCray exclaims.
American Bronzing Company, just outside of Bexley, is thought to be both the nation’s largest shoe bronzing company and the country’s largest silver restoration business. But both of those industries have lost cultural relevance, and the company is now shutting down for good.
Nothing Left To Bronze
McCray is one of the store’s last customers. Owner Bob Kaynes says the business will finish a few orders placed at the end of 2017 before it shuts down for good.
“Both of our business models, the baby shoe bronzing and the silver restoration, are too mature,” Kaynes says.
The practices of bronzing shoes and restoring silver, he says, just are not popular anymore.
“Baby shoe bronzing was very popular in the 1950s and ‘60s,” Kaynes says. “And what made that work was all the mothers only had one place to go for child-rearing, and that was Parents Magazine. Back in the '60s, if you had a baby, you read Parents Magazine.”
American Bronzing, once known as Bron Shoe, could advertise in one place and reach all its target audience. But the rise of the internet fractured that model.
“We did a lousy job reaching the marketplace,” Kaynes admits. “And because it’s so splintered, that’s what caused the demise of the baby shoe bronzing end of it.”
American Bronzing has bronzed more than 14 million baby shoes. It also bronzed the items of retired professional athletes: Larry Holmes’ boxing gloves, Dr. J’s basketball shoes and Jack Nicklaus’ golf shoes.
Kaynes says the height of the silver restoration business was also mid-1900s.
“In the '50s and even '60s, women didn’t work, O.K. They had time to sit at home and polish the silver,” Kaynes says. “Once women went to work, the whole concept of entertaining with silver took a dive. Because nobody had the time.”
84 Years And Profitable
Kaynes’ grandmother Violet Shinbach started the business in 1934. He’s been here for the last 40 years. In its prime, American Bronzing made a lot of money.
“We were doing about $7 million in sales," Kaynes says. "Profits I’m not going to get into, but we were doing about 7 million dollars in sales. That’s a lot. That’s a good-sized business.”
But now, those sales numbers have decreased by almost two-thirds. The company now sees just $2.5 million dollars in sales. The loss in sales also means a loss in staff.
“In our heyday, we had over 100 people working here. That’s a lot of people,” Kaynes says. “And we’re down to about 15 or 20 now. At the end of the month, we’ll be closing up.”
Kaynes will be among the workers looking for a new job, but he says he’ll always keep his fond memories.
“This was the baby bronzing shoe capital of the world. You think of baby shoes and you think of Bron Shoe, or American Bronzing Company, or whatever we went by,” Kaynes says. “This has been my life, so it’s a real hard thing to say goodbye to."