James Cole, who for six decades operated his Shine King business in Austin that served celebrities and some of Chicago’s powerful political figures, died Monday, July 11, after falling ill. He was 78.
Funeral arrangements are pending.
His son, Vernon Cole, released a statement.
“We regretfully announce the passing of our CEO, James W. Cole. Mr. Cole passed this morning at 4:10 a.m. at West Suburban Hospital. He was born in Humboldt, TN.
“He is known for the birth of Shoe Shine King, his baby for 57 years. He provided job opportunities to many at risk people in the Austin and Garfield Park communities.
“We are still in the process of dealing with this shocking news. Our family and the Shine King community request privacy while we take the needed steps to move forward. Funeral arrangements will be announced in the coming days.”
Cole’s Shine King at 338 N. Central Ave. is his legacy. Initially a hobby, Cole founded the shop in 1964. For nearly 60 years, he hired hundreds of people, giving first jobs to many and offering opportunities to at-risk kids and former inmates.
In his lifetime, Cole’s customers included an ambitious political novice named Barack Obama, Mayors Harold Washington and Lori Lightfoot, Bluesman Little Milton and R&B singer Johnnie Taylor. Don Jackson, producer of the Gospel Stellar Awards, is one of Shine King’s notable patrons.
Cole founded Shoe Shine King at Madison and Kedzie after shining shoes on the street. He ran a contracting business for 17 years at 5634 W. Chicago Ave., specializing in roofing.
Cole’s first shop at Madison and Kedzie operated from 1964 to 1970. It survived the destruction that took place on the West Side after the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in 1968.
Cole was born in Humboldt, Tennessee, to sharecroppers Gertie and Vernon Cole. He settled in Chicago around ninth grade and went to Marshall High School on the West Side.
In 1968, he expanded his business to Central Avenue and Lake Street. He also opened another shop at 3954 W. Madison St., which operated from 1970 to 2003.
Cole and his longtime staff at Shine King would fix and shine all kinds of shoes, from sneakers to wingtips.
Cole is also survived by his daughters, Karen, Darlene and Ariel; sons Steve and Jameson; 25 grandchildren and his great-grandchildren, Vernon Cole said.