Lincoln Carr’s father wouldn’t approve of the way he walks through the shared office building in downtown Louisville.
The 33-year-old practices lawyer for Dentons Bingham Greenebaum and staff on the 35th floor of the PNC Tower at 101 S. Fifth St.
His father, Derrick Carr, was a popular shoe shiner in the same building for over 30 years.
While Derrick was certainly proud of his youngest son’s accomplishments, the younger Carr’s irony was not lost as he pulled his casual but stylish suede business shoes from under the conference table we sat at.
His shoes were scratched. Suede cannot be polished.
There was no shine.
Really since his father had a massive heart attack and suddenly died in May 2020.
I came downtown just after the New Year to meet Lincoln in his office. I stood outside the tower and craned my neck back to see the top of the structure. It is among the tallest buildings in Louisville. When I arrived at the immaculate office, I took the elevator up 35 floors and was greeted by breathtaking views of the Ohio River.
Lincoln has only been a litigation attorney for about four years, but has known this building for as long as he can remember.
As a child, in the mid-1990s, he spent his summers there while his father worked.
The details of how Derrick Carr started his business, The Executive Shoe Shine, are a little fuzzy for Lincoln, but the way the young attorney recalls hearing it in the late 1980s, his father needed a new way to get around to support his family. So he bought a list of shoe polishers and packed a suitcase full of shoe polish. Over time, Derrick built his mobile business with nothing but his attention to detail and electrifying personality.
For more than 30 years, Derrick was a fixture at PNC Tower Thursdays, offering customers a smile, a story when they had time, and a quick wave when they didn’t, Lincoln told me. His father never needed apparel-like tickets to remember whose shoes belonged to whom. After collecting them all, he spread them out on a large table in an empty room and worked off any scratches and blemishes until they shone like new.
Over the years Derrick positioned himself as a kind of concierge for busy professionals, bringing his talents to various offices around the city center. He expanded from shoe cleaning to dry cleaning and detailing of cars.
Eventually he bought an old van and started a mobile shoe shine. He used it to travel to business fairs, where thousands of worn, tired work shoes had to be freshened up between heavy business deals and seminars.
Lincoln told me Derrick had a positive attitude about everything he did, and he was a big believer in visualization.
His father taught him that if you imagine doing something and really focus on it, you can achieve anything.
As Lincoln explained this, I wondered if he was practicing this way as a lawyer in the same building where, year after year, he had watched executives and businessmen give his father high-end shoes to clean.
Surely it had influenced and encouraged him to see Derrick’s work ethic, and busy spending and leaving summers in those pristine offices.
Lincoln stopped me. That was not the case at all.
As a kid, he hated reading and really didn’t put much energy into science.
Actually, he imagined himself to be Michael Jordan, he told me with a laugh.
He only tried to go to school so that he could continue to play sports.
Realizing he would never be the size of Jordan, Lincoln focused on football at South Oldham County High School and put his dreams on the NFL.
Schoolwork always took a back seat, he admitted, particularly remembering a psychology class where he was just trying to get a grade that matched his jersey number – 26.
Nonetheless, after a brief period on the waiting list, Lincoln signed up for the University of Louisville 2007 and turned to a marketing degree. Nobody really thought he was going to play college football, he said, but he joined the team in his sophomore year and by his senior year his grades and skills had improved such that he was awarded a scholarship. By that point, his mom had tapped her 401k to keep him from drowning in college debt – that’s a gift, he says, he’ll never really be able to repay it except that he can actually repay it one day.
That positive attitude his father taught him and the idea of a career in football brought him to the NCAA.
He didn’t even think about studying law until he was about two years after his bachelor’s degree when he was sure his football days were over. He returned to school in 2015 and joined Dentons Bingham Greenebaum and Associates for three years and later studied extensively.
Initially, when he joined the company, it was surreal to go to this tower every day. Most of the partners and employees knew his father. Many remembered meeting Lincoln when he was a boy.
Occasionally when he walked into someone’s office he felt like he had been there before, and most likely he was.
Sometimes he heard his father’s voice in the hallway or even a low honking sound when he entered the building. Those were welcome moments in everyday work, but even without them it was not difficult to tell when his father was in the PNC Tower. Every Thursday, smartly dressed business people walked through the halls on sock feet. Sometimes they had bags of shoes for him to shine, but sometimes they would give Derrick the shoes off her feet.
The pandemic has, of course, changed the way people come and go in the office. The dress code has been relaxed in part, and many of Lincoln’s colleagues now work remotely.
“The only days that I now completely avoid going to the office are on Thursdays … it was kind of cool just being able to talk to him while I was at work,” he told me.
Thursday just doesn’t have it felt like without his father.
His father had this incredible ability to make people feel important. His interactions with people were so much more than small talk and niceties. The shoeshine boy heard people talking, and there was a real authenticity about him that drew everyone.
Derrick saw it in the way people honored his life after his death.
The COVID-19 closure in the first half of 2020 prevented Lincoln and his family from hosting a proper funeral for him, but he heard condolences from friends, family and acquaintances. So many people got in touch.
However, Lincoln remembered an email from a colleague.
It summed up that Derrick had more shine than a condolence card ever could.
“Your father taught me something that no partner could ever teach me, and that is the customer relationship,” Lincoln recalled the email. “I could never have learned that from a partner or anyone in this world – how to treat a customer.”
Columnist Maggie Menderski writes about what makes Louisville, southern Indiana, and Kentucky unique, wonderful, and sometimes a little weird. If you have something in your family, town, or even your closet that fits this description – she wants to hear from you. Say hello to [email protected] or 502-582-4053. Follow @MaggieMenderski on Instagram and Twitter.