Just about every weekday morning for the past decade, Lovell Tims walked into the U.S. Bank Plaza, bought a newspaper at Billy & Marty’s Convenience Store, grabbed eggs, bacon and toast upstairs at the Burger Place and coffee at Wuollet Bakery, and then sat down near his shoeshine booth to read and have breakfast.
Then he went to smoke a cigarette. And then he started shining shoes.
A towering presence in the busy corridor where his three-seat booth sat tucked between Wuollet and Jimmy John’s, Tims (who went by the name “Tim” most of his life) died Jan. 21 of lung cancer. He was 74.
“He had a pretty loyal following,” said Patrick Lee, a partner with Deloitte and one of Tims’ customers. “He was a charismatic guy, and it was always nice to go and spend those five or 10 minutes with him.”
Tims rubbed shoulders with judges, lawyers, executives and police officers, but he also was a good friend in the tight-knit service community of the building.
“He treated everybody the same,” said Randy Wilson, a customer who got his shoes shined at a booth Tims worked at in the Northstar Center before he moved to the U.S. Bank Plaza. “He was a neighbor to everyone.”
Tims didn’t push conversation on his customers. He’d let them take the lead, and as he polished a pair of shoes or swung outside for a cigarette, he often listened to blues or jazz on a Discman tucked into his pants.
U.S. Bank Plaza is full of restaurants and is the crossroads between Canadian Pacific Plaza, Capella Tower, Hennepin County Government Center and City Hall. When there were no customers, Tims sat on the stand and watched one of the busiest portions of the skyway.
“He was kind of like our second pair of eyes up there,” said Arthur Thomas, a security guard in the building.
Tims had a memory for faces and opened lines of communication with building management and even police. When someone banned from the building came in, he noticed and would turn the person in.
“He knew everybody who came through here,” said Paul Wagner, the assistant property manager at U.S. Bank Plaza. “He always had eyes on the skyway, plus he had all these personal relationships with the tenants, too.”
A native of Durant, Miss., and the third of six children, Tims left home for Waterloo, Iowa, when he was a teenager. He ended up in the Twin Cities working for American Hoist and Derrick and got into shining shoes later. He got his booth in the U.S. Bank Plaza eight years ago.
“He bragged about that shoeshine business,” said Tims’ younger sister, Maxcine Outlaw. “He was making money, and people loved him.”
Until recently, he rode his bike downtown from his apartment near the corner of Chicago Avenue and 36th Street. When it was too cold or rainy, he rode the bus.
His sister said he was a stubborn man — always ready to argue and refusing to quit smoking even after his doctor told him to stop. Even after receiving the cancer diagnosis in October, he sneaked outside to smoke out of sight of his friends in the building.
“I prayed for him and then I sat on the bed beside him, and he looked at me and said, ‘How come this happened to me?’ ” Outlaw said, describing one of their last conversations. “I said, ‘Because, when you first knew that this was going on, you didn’t tell us, because you didn’t want to stop smoking.’ ”
Tims worked a few weeks before starting chemotherapy, then didn’t come back to shine shoes. He moved into a nursing home, then into hospice care in late December.
Wagner said he talked to Tims on the phone in mid-January. He told Wagner he was “doing OK” and planned to visit U.S. Bank Plaza to people-watch. He died four days later.
Services have been held.