Mauricio Dias was being courted by Wall Street.
After losing his job at the investment bank Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette when it was sold to Credit Suisse, he received a phone call from the office of Hamilton E. James, the executive who had orchestrated the sale, Mr. Dias said. Mr. James was starting a new role as the No. 2 at the Blackstone Group, a big investment firm, and wanted Mr. Dias to join him.
Mr. Dias, now a 10-year stalwart at Blackstone, is no banker with a briefcase, however. He carries a shoeshine box.
Inside New York's investment houses, a vestige of old Wall Street lives on. Gone are the days when offices were filled with smoke and secretaries were the only women in sight. But in-house shoeshine service has proved remarkably resilient, surviving the rise of technology and even the turmoil of the 2008 financial crisis, which snuffed out many of Wall Street's quirks.
Mr. Dias, 52, is at the top of the heap in the shoeshine world. He charges $6 for a shine in Blackstone's offices, while the Dr. Shine shoeshine parlor in the building's lobby charges $3. Not counting the tip.
"He's a V.I.P.," said Gotardo Cortez, 38, a co-owner of Dr. Shine. A spokesman for Blackstone declined to comment.
Though they are not bank employees, Wall Street's shoeshine workers are privy to the hidden dramas of trading floors and executive suites. At JPMorgan Chase, for example, a shoeshine worker said that Jamie Dimon, the bank's powerful chief executive—who favors Ferragamo loafers—typically offers $10 for a shoeshine, "the same thing the guys on the trading floor pay."
But the modern shoeshine business has changed since the old days, reflecting the evolution of Wall Street firms from private partnerships to large, public corporations. Senior traders from Bear Stearns recall the days when they could put their feet up on a shoeshine box brought to their desks and banter with their colleagues as the deed was done. But that changed after JPMorgan took over the firm in 2008.
At JPMorgan, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, teams of workers now collect shoes and take them elsewhere to be shined, leaving traders to work in stocking feet. Though many bank employees appreciate the efficiency of that updated method—harried traders sometimes claim they do not even have time to use the restroom—some longtime employees see it as an affront.
"They've turned it into a sterile thing," said James J. Dunne III, the senior managing principal of the investment bank Sandler O'Neill & Partners. "That's where Wall Street has gotten more like a department store."
The subject of shoeshines is a sentimental one for many Wall Street denizens, but perhaps none more so than Mr. Dunne, for whom a shoeshine was his introduction to the industry in September 1978.
A few months out of college and just days into an investment bank job, Mr. Dunne was sitting at his desk at L. F. Rothschild, Unterberg, Towbin and marveling at the shoeshine worker. He thought, "Who would pay to get a shoeshine?"
He soon found out. Mark H. Rosen, his immediate boss, told Mr. Dunne to "chill out a little bit," Mr. Dunne said. Johnny B., the shoeshine worker, proceeded to work his magic on Mr. Dunne—courtesy of Mr. Rosen.
"It was just a wonderful, warm welcoming. It was about more than just get-that-spreadsheet-done," Mr. Dunne, now 56, said. "There was a very human aspect to it."
The annals of Wall Street lore are brimming with tales of shoeshine workers and their customers—the biggest tippers, the overheard stock tips. And, of course, there is the one told by Joseph P. Kennedy Sr., the high-flying financier who was the first chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission.
A master of the market, Mr. Kennedy had the foresight to sell his stock holdings before the crash of 1929. He later told a reporter—perhaps not entirely seriously—that he realized the market was overheated when, on a visit to a shoeshine parlor on Wall Street, he heard from the worker snapping a cloth across his shoes "what was going to happen to various stocks and offerings on the market that day"—and the worker was "entirely correct."
Ticker tape has long since given way to computer screens, but the shoeshine has remained.
"There was always a shoeshine guy who came around," said John H. Gutfreund, who joined Salomon Brothers as a trainee in 1953 and rose to become its chief executive in the 1980s.
Mr. Gutfreund, 83, recalled paying $2 or $3 to get his shoes shined at his desk. "Anybody who wanted a shoeshine got it," he said.
Traditionally, the relationships between shoeshine workers and their firms have been supported by custom—and amenable security guards—rather than official edict. But one of the firms to formalize the arrangement was Goldman Sachs.