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“United we stand!” wrote Hollis Gonerka Bart in her impassioned e-mail to hundreds of lawyer colleagues and corporate clients, seeking their help in getting a downtown shoe repair shop back in business after Sept. 11. On behalf of Salvatore Iacono, the beleaguered proprietor of the shop, which was ravaged when the nearby World Trade Center collapsed, Bart added, “With shined shoes, we march forward with pride!” The e-mail message spread to the point where Iacono, better known to his clientele as “Sal the Sole Man,” has lost count of the number of attorneys and business executives who have gone out of their way to bring their shod feet to the Continental Shoe Repair shop on Barclay Street. To be sure, it was an unorthodox strategy that Bart, 47, a general business and complex commercial litigation partner in the New York office of Ross & Hardies, employed to help rescue Iacono’s business. But it has worked to restore daily revenues that fell to nothing after the terrorist attack, and that remain substantially down. Shine by shine and cobble by cobble, Iacono’s revenues are rising — enough to keep him afloat as he sweats out the bureaucratic red tape involved in a welter of insurance claims, loan applications and rescue grants that Bart and two associates from the firm’s Chicago headquarters have filed for him. Watching the televised carnage in New York from her home in Chicago, “I was feeling helpless,” said Ross & Hardies associate Lynn M. Geerdes, 34. “I have many friends in New York.” Then came Bart’s firmwide call for volunteers to assist her in the pro bono Small Business Initiative organized by the Association of the Bar of the City of New York. Geerdes — a native of Grundey, Iowa, who spent a few tourist days in New York back in 1993 — was the first to sign on. She was joined by her colleague in the commercial litigation department, Colleen E. Young, 33, a Chicagoan who has never visited New York. “Here we are working with Sal and Holly Bart, and we’ve never seen them,” said Young. “Oh, I do want to come some day. “Sal tells me to bring my shoes. He’ll give me the best repairs and the best shines, he says. He’s very sweet, and very grateful.” In addition to finding grants and other monies for which Sal the Sole Man might conceivably qualify, “We worked on business interruption coverage through his insurance company, we negotiated rent reductions with his landlord, discounts through Con Edison,” said Geerdes. “Basically anything we could think of because Sal’s store was vandalized.” Indeed, rescue workers smashed down the front door of Continental Shoe Repair to use the space as a triage area for medics. The open door led to looting. Iacono lost his entire stock insoles, arch and heel cushions, leather orthotics, laces and polishes — not to mention some $1,400 in the till. “I tell you the truth, there was a time when I said to myself, Sal, this is it, this is the end,” Iacono admitted. “But I never like to quit like a loser.” Thus did he decide to try the Worth Street walk-in clinic set up by the City Bar to offer free legal service to devastated mom-and-pop enterprises such as his own. Iacono’s shoe shine parlor is a family business of 23 years’ standing, aided in no small measure by 17 years of labor and devotion by Herman Garcia, the shop’s No. 1 shine man. Lucky for Iacono that Bart happened to be on duty when he arrived at Worth Street with his arms full of business records. Bart characterized their meeting as mutual good fortune. On the afternoon of Wednesday, Jan. 9, when Bart dropped by Continental Shoe Repair, Bart said of her client: “To see him now, as opposed to the day I met him — well, it’s truly a blessing. The day I met him, his shoulders were slumped, he was overwhelmed by his sense of loss. He’s a proud man, and here he had to tell his friend of 17 years, Mr. Garcia, that he could no longer afford to pay him. “Well, he just pushed all his papers at me and asked, ‘Can you help me?’ “ “You know, it’s not always so much about the practice of law,” said Bart. “It’s sometimes about being there in a time of need.” Iacono’s needs were great, and he is indeed grateful. “It’s amazing, these lawyers do this work for no money,” he said. “I say, God bless America. Anyplace else, you go down — you stay down. Here, you get all kinds of help.” Including the kind of micro-help Bart offered on that Wednesday. “Sal — a customer!” she said, interrupting a cozy chat with her client when a man bustled in from the street with an armload of down-at-the-heels shoes in need of fixing. “I told you, Sal, this is about revenues!” Iacono received a gentle shove from his lawyer, who then explained exactly how the association was a mutual blessing. “I’m from Peoria. It happens,” said Bart. “Before, I was always the outsider who came from a different place. Now I have a very different vision of New York. I’m much more tuned into the rhythms. It’s more my town.” Bart left Illinois for New York in 1989, first as an associate at Schulte Roth & Zabel, where she headed up the the firm’s “Legal Outreach” program, a pro bono effort to help disadvantaged youths pursue legal careers. In 1996, she joined Ross & Hardies in New York as a partner. In addition to Iacono, she has taken on as pro bono clients a few other small businesses affected by Sept. 11, including the case of a Middle Eastern taxi driver. On her own time, she cooks for police officers and rescue workers at ground zero. “They were working these 12- and 15-hour shifts and eating out of vending machines,” Bart explained. “Ugh!” Meanwhile, the cause of helping the shop seems to have taken on a life of its own, due in part to an estimated 4,000 forwarded e-mails. On Wednesday, Derek P. McDowell, a real estate lawyer from Brooklyn, dumped his armload of sorry-looking shoes on the counter and said: “Lawyers should save their money. Don’t buy new shoes. Come here and get your old shoes fixed.”

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