Denver shoe shiner Jason Dornstar has huge following for YouTube ASMR videos
It’s a scene straight out of the 2002 movie “Catch Me If You Can.” While waiting for a delayed flight at Denver International Airport in 2011, Jason Dornstar spotted an unattended shoe shine stand and saw an opportunity to try out.
Dornstar, then working as a shoe salesman for Nordstrom, had never shined shoes before. But 15 years in the shoe business, a few shoe polishes and rags he found in an unlocked drawer near the booth, and just the right amount of confidence were enough to push his way through four brilliant professionals that day- the. He pocketed the extra cash he had earned and smiled the entire flight to Vegas.
Today, 11 years later, Dornstar operates its own shoe shine business. He’s already made a decent name for himself – in part thanks to uploading videos of his outbursts to YouTube, where he’s racked up 160,000 subscribers on his channel.
Of course, many of these subscribers are people who are genuinely interested in the craft, eager to watch and learn Dornstar’s methods and have a demonstrated passion for his work. But another group of watchers entered his comments section a few years ago: People watched the videos for the pleasant sounds of the shards and Dornstar’s soothing voice as he explained each step or had a quiet chat with the client. .
There’s a name for it: ASMR (autonomic sensory meridian response), a subgenre of videos introduced to YouTube as early as 2009. Some people who search for the videos listen because the sounds they hear or the movements they stare at the screen create a pleasant tingling sensation in the back of the head and neck. Many use the videos to relax or even fall asleep. A 2022 study found that people who experience ASMR experience less depressive feelings and a slower heart rate when watching ASMR videos.
Dornstar didn’t realize at first that his videos were watched for ASMR by some of his viewers. “I just thought people watched it to learn how to shine shoes,” he said. “I had no idea there was this aspect, like Bob Ross, where people watched him to relax.”
Always a good seller eager to serve his audience, Dornstar has since labeled some of his videos as ASMR.
Today, Dornstar shoots many of his videos in the back room of Homer Reed Ltd., a family-run menswear store across from the historic Brown Palace Hotel. Hidden behind fitting rooms, his space is by no means glamorous – he’s set on a workshop bench in a grimy corner decorated with trinkets and stickers, a shelf lined with rows of cans filled with varnish, waxes and creams.
A shiny silver YouTube creator award stands out from the clutter, commemorating the day he surpassed 100,000 subscribers. He calls his corner the “Shine Dungeon”.
The rugged setting actually bolsters his videos, Dornstar said, giving a raw and real feel to his shoot rather than anything too sterile or staged. He upgraded his filming setup from an iPhone camera leaning against a cup of pens to three cameras to capture every angle of his process. Two Yeti pickups collect crisp sound. Its space is covered with purple noise-canceling foam mats.
“It’s so cool, just (going) from the most basic raw video… to now setting up three different cameras, setting up two different mics for external audio, and going through the post-production process and putting the everything,” he said. “This creative process, to me, is just as much fun as polishing a shoe.”
From there, the brilliant can begin.
“Hey Bill, I’ll be filming real quick,” Dornstar will call the store owner before closing the door and pressing “record.” The back room quiets, now filled only with the rhythmic beat of his brushes, his soft whispers and the occasional muffled beep of a distant car horn outside.
Dornstar has toured many locations. Currently, he splits his time between his Shine Dungeon at Homer Reed Ltd. and Scissors and Scotch, a hair salon in Greenwood Village. Sometimes people send him their shoes, sometimes they come in person and for $15-20 he puts them on a chair and gets to work. His most popular upload is a 20-minute video of him cleaning a pair of Gucci sneakers for a young girl, which received 2.4 million views.
But business has slowed down. Traditional shoe shiners are rare, fashion has changed and after completely splitting from Nordstrom and starting his own business as the pandemic took hold – when many people weren’t tying their dress shoes and weren’t going to the office or traveling – Dornstar needed to find another job in 2021 to supplement his income.
Now shining full time again, he only works on a few pairs of shoes at a time. Videos on his YouTube channel average around 20,000 views each, earning him an additional $800 a month, a far cry from the thousands he earned at the height of his channel.
Still, he regularly uploads videos, and it’s clear from his comments just how widespread the support and appreciation for his craft is. “I just want to say thank you for all the hard work you do and show us!” a viewer wrote on a video he uploaded on July 9. “Although I’ve never met you, I feel like I’ve known you for years.”
“There are drugs that help people relax, there’s alcohol and all that,” Dornstar said, “but having something that you’ve created…having content that people can just relax or appreciating is like the biggest compliment to me.
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