The Shoe Store

Vintage shoe store on Main Street

Kids grow fast, and so do their feet. That means that most of us Boomers made frequent trips to the shoe store while we were growing up.

I say MOST of us, because those of us who had an older sibling just ahead of us instead received hand-me-downs.

But that wasn’t the case with me. My older brother was ten years older than me, and it might as well have been a hundred, such was the gap between six and sixteen.

Ergo, I experienced frequent trips to the shoe store on Miami, Oklahoma’s Main Street.

That, of course, was where a kid could obtain P.F. Flyers. That was decidedly cool. But it was also where I would obtain dress shoes for church. Not nearly so cool.

The first thing that you noticed about the show store was the wonderful aroma. It was a heavenly nasal concoction consisting of a combination of leather, rubber, cigarette smoke, the salesman’s cologne, and perhaps some fresh floor wax.

The first thing the salesman would do is have me sit down so he could measure my feet.

Brannock Device

I never had a clue what the hoogus was called that he would use to calculate the exact size that my sock-clad foot required. In researching this column I learned that it’s known as a Brannock Device, and it is still proudly made in the USA.

Anyhow, the tool was slightly scary to me when I was very young, but I soon learned to relax, as there was absolutely no pain involved in its use. Instead, it came to feel reassuring to have the familiar device, well-worn from years of use, applied firmly against the bottom of my foot. It meant that in the topsy-turvy world in which I lived, one thing could absolutely be counted on: my shoes fitting perfectly. Of course, that took into account the leaving of an extra inch of growing room in the toes.

The Brannock tool was fun to play with while my mom shopped for a pair of shoes for herself, which always took a lot longer than it did to select mine. More entertainment was provided by the angled mirrors that were designed to show a customer just what their potential new shoes looked like from the side. And the little bench the salesman sat on had wire runners for legs that made it perfect to push one’s self around on the carpeted floor of the sales area, pretending to ride a sleigh.

Despite the Brannock tool having been around for ages, my elder brothers might possibly have gone through a more accurate, if not dangerous fitting procedure.

X-ray machine found in 1950’s shoe stores

Beginning in the 1930’s, portable fluoroscopes began showing up in shoe stores. The devices would bombard customers’ feet with a twenty second or longer exposure to pure X-rays!

The fluoroscopes grew in popularity over the years, and many of the more senior members of the Boomer generation can recall getting their feet X-rayed at the shoe store on a regular basis.

Many of the devices had three settings for men, women, and children. You would put your feet into a slot on the front of the machine while standing, and the exposure would begin. You could then peer through the viewer (there were three, one for you, one for the salesman, and one for mom) and see your feet’s bones on a green screen, ghostily surrounded by the shoes.

By the 60’s, the devices had fallen out of favor, so no exposure to X-rays at the shoe store for me.

Nowadays, visiting the shoe store is still a pleasant experience. That great aroma is still there, minus the cigarette smoke. Those angled mirrors still do the trick for side views. And some stores even have a Brannock tool for me to play with while my wife takes her own sweet time to pick out the perfect pair of shoes.

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