James Mercer has earned his keep shining shoes downtown for the better part of the past quarter-century. At present he operates a chair in a small room on the ninth floor of the Chemical Building at Eighth and Olive, next door to Marilyn Massey's Downtown Barber Shop. Shining shoes is a tough racket these days, reports Mercer -- a consequence of the lethal combination of commercial sprawl and office workers' ever-increasing preference for casual footwear. "My business is providing for me from deadline to deadline -- and every weekend's a deadline," Mercer will tell you. Still, Mercer is one of the great local professionals in a great old profession. Erroneously viewed as menial, the art of the shine is just that: an art. Mercer also separates himself from the pack with his knowledge of the urban core. He's a downtown guy who can walk you through the mercurial neighborhood's unofficial street-level history over a soda and a burger at Dapper Dan's or Dooley's. He and his craft are survivors; long may they live.