Going down memory lane I recall an elderly blind man having a vendor stand in the old Post Office on east Main Street in my hometown of Idabel, Oklahoma. He sold shoestrings, belts, and a few other items such as pencils. As a teenager I bought a belt from him. That gentleman made the belts from several individual leather pieces which could be connected together. That way he could make a belt whatever size his customer wanted. I may still have the belt I bought from him after all these years.
I don’t know whether or not handicap vendors are allowed to set-up shop in Post Offices now days. Something else which was quite prevalent in Post Offices of the past were the beautiful murals which depicted different periods of the past here in America. That Post Office had three or four large murals on its walls.
The phrase: “Starting out on a shoestring” has been around for more than a century. It requires sacrifice on those willing to begin a business under those circumstances. Their family would have to do without many desirable and even needed items. If the business venture panned out then they would be rewarded.
The certainty of when and how the expression: “starting out on a shoestring” is uncertain. There are three or four concepts of its origin. It is often used in reference to those who had little money to start a business, but did so anyway. One proposed way in which it got started is such as the gentleman I described above. One proposed explanation of its beginning was provided by Maverns’ Word of the Day. What it presented does not sound very plausible. Its theory is that in the late 1800s when a shoe string broke the remaining one was often used to tie a bundle of items. Another suggested origin was presented by the New York Public Library’s “Ask a Librarian.” Their proposed origin was that a person’s resources were limited to the laces of one’s shoes. Someone suggested that it began during the depression of the 1930s. But there is evidence that it predated that era.
One other claim for its origin came about from faro, which is a form of gambling. It was used in 1904 as a “shoestring gambler,” also called a “petty, tinhorn gambler.” (Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins,” by Robert Hendrickson).
Dub Mowery is a Gospel preacher in the Church of Christ. Presently he serves as full time evangelist for the Pittsburg Church of Christ. A native of Southeast Oklahoma, he is the author of Colloquial Sayings & Expressions (Morris Publishing, 2008)