Joseph Kennedy, father of the assassinated US president and one-time head of the Wall Street watchdog the Securities and Exchange Commission, famously said you knew the market was heading for a crash if the shoeshine boys started giving you share tips.
He was right in 1929 in New York, but how about now, in Dubai?
I’m certain that one of the most reliable weathervanes of economic activity is the bustling little business run by the Shoe Shine Company in the main concourse of the Dubai International Financial Centre.
Sitting there on your lofty perch while two highly skilled shiners get going on your shoes is therapeutic, but also informative. Don’t go there between 8am and 9am, or between noon and three: there are often queues of well-shod “master of the universe” types waiting to top off the Savile Row style with the perfect gleaming shine.
Mid-afternoon is best. Then you can get a chat with the two Filipino guys who run the lucrative little operation. A basic shine takes about three minutes, and costs Dh20. If they were working flat out, five days a week, they’d pull in about Dh80,000 per month.
Not bad, and that’s just the basic shine. The value-added side of the business provides full waxing and virtual renovation, which is far more lucrative.
They don’t work completely flat out, of course. They like to chat with their customers.
“It’s much better now, business was really bad a couple of years ago,” said one. “Now, especially here in DIFC, it’s very busy nearly all the time,” said one.
He went on to explain how the company has operations elsewhere in Dubai – at the airport, The Dubai Mall, Emirates Towers and Dubai Multi-Commodites Centre – but that DIFC was by far the biggest money-spinner.
I didn’t ask him for any share tips, however, nor did he offer any. Maybe DIFC shoe-shiners are regulated by the Dubai Financial Services Authority, and know better than to offer unsolicited investment business.
I’ve been in Zuma, the buzzy restaurant and beverage establishment in the heart of the DIFC Village, a couple of times in the past week: first for drinks last Thursday evening, then for lunch on Sunday.
It’s one of the jewels in the little treasure trove of culinary delights in the DIFC Gate Village area. Lunchtimes are busy but also businesslike. You can get in an hour of Dubai celeb-spotting before heading back to the office.
Evenings are more hectic, when the place, and the clientele forgets about work for the day and gets down to a bit of fun. On Thursday in particular, it's becoming one of the places to go in the DIFC area to celebrate the beginning of the weekend.
But just one small gripe: the management has decided to implement a no-cigars policy throughout the whole place.
My lunch partner was a well-known businessman in the UAE scene, and I know from previous meetings he likes to puff a small cheroot after a meal, as do I.
“No, it is absolutely ruled out now, beginning April 1,” explained the manager. “You can go and stand outside if you wish,” he offered lamely, and then went on to hint that everywhere in Dubai was contemplating a similar ban – not on smoking at all, but just on smoking small cheroots. “Families don’t like them,” he said.
I’ve never noticed many families (by which I presume he means parents with youngish children) in Zuma. In fact at night it’s definitely not a family place.
But if Dubai authorities really are planning a crackdown on cheroots, we should be told. I foresee a rush of cigar bars opening up in the city.
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